BENNINGTON -- Everything inside the Fiddlehead at Four Corners gallery in downtown Bennington has its own story, but few speak as loudly as the group of mosaics that have recently arrived on the gallery's most prominent wall.
Positioned to reflect the sunlight, the mosaics fit in with the colorful paintings and glass art that surround them. But while most of the works on display in the gallery come from professional artists from around the country, the mosaics took shape down the street at Mount Anthony Union High School. Student artists made them in Danielle Crosier's Quantum Leap program mosaics class.
A collaboration between MAU and Bennington College, the Quantum Leap program offers project-based classes for students with chaotic home lives or traumatic histories. Writing classes, the mosaics program and other courses give the students the experience of creating something with their own hands and ideas.
The Quantum Leap program's curriculum can change to reflect student interests, and the mosaic class began when some enthusiastic students showed interest in the art form during a lesson on Ancient Rome.
"We found this fresco from Pompeii, and the kids asked if we could make a mosaic of it," said Danielle Crosier, who runs the Quantum Leap program with her husband, Rich. "It was done without really any skills, but I tried to show that they understood the concepts. At the end I thought ‘Oh, my God, they really like it.'"
Crosier had learned mosaic techniques earlier in her life by watching Italian artists in Venice, and she felt confident she could pass on her skills to the students. Mosaics began as an after-school program, and Crosier now teaches the class twice a day, as well as after school. In fact, many graduates of the program still come by after school to work on mosaics.
In stark contrast to Fiddlehead's mellow, quiet downtown gallery, the mosaics classroom at MAU is a hurricane of productive activity during class time.
Crosier said each semester the students are expected to complete two mosaics, although they often end up splitting their time to work on large collaborative images with other students, old mosaics left unfinished by past students or tile-decorated boxes and tabletops. Over time, many surfaces in the Quantum Leap classrooms have been covered in glass tiles.
"I started this at the beginning of the semester, but it is taking a really long time because I have to get into really deep detail," said Laura Farrington of Arlington, a junior in the class who was approaching the hardest part of her mermaid mosaic -- the face. "It's a big pain, honestly, but I'm really excited for it to be done."
Once the students finish their mosaics, Crosier asks them to reflect on the experience in an accompanying essay. These writings give the mosaics an even stronger personality, as the student artists get to explain their choice of image, decisions they made in creating the mosaics and their reactions to their work.
Fiddlehead's manager, Joey Kulkin, says he has been really impressed by the essays he has seen.
"These kids are smart as hell," he said.
At the end of the semester, the program hosts a show for the students to present their mosaics, writing and other works to the community. This event, which this year will take place Wednesday to Friday, May 21, 22 and 23, from 3 to 6 p.m. each day, gives the students an ultimate goal to work toward and gives them a chance to get responses to their accomplishments.
Fiddlehead currently has six mosaics for sale, with prices raging from $150 to $300, and after the show, they expect about a dozen more to come into the gallery. Kulkin explained Fiddlehead's owner, Joel Lentzner, has a master's in education and is enthusiastic about helping the students, so proceeds from the sold mosaics will help to fund Quantum Leap. Three mosaics have already been sold, raising enough money for a year's supply of colored glass for the students.
Kulkin said the mosaics have been getting lots of attention from gallery visitors, even before he has the chance to tell their story.
Of all the special programs Joel and Nina Lentzner run at Fiddlehead, Kulkin says working with the Quantum Leap students has been by far his favorite.
"Even if you put their art aside, they're just good kids," he said.
If you go ...
What: Mount Anthony Union High School Quantum Leap exhibit
When: 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesday
to Friday, May 21, 22 and 23
Where: Mount Anthony Union High School, Bennington.