Professional artists from across the region and beyond have visited the Walker Fine Arts Gallery at Patrick Henry Community College for the past 20 years to share their work and expertise with students.
PHCC art professor Gerry Bannan said the primary focus of the gallery is education, and the information students learn from these artists has been invaluable.
The gallery also hosts the annual student art show, which is on display there through May 17.
Although many of his students don’t plan to pursue art as a career, Bannan said, “a subset of students will be directly interested in what the artist has to say about professional practice, work methods, discipline and technical advice. Far too often, popular culture presents being a professional artist as a dead-end career path. It absolutely is not.”
Understanding how an artist thinks and approaches her work is a learning experience for everyone, he said.
“It’s eye-opening to people in general,” he said. “People don’t always realize that critical thinking is what an artist does constantly. They’re always observing, evaluating and synthesizing new creations.”
Bannan added that art often leaves people scratching their heads and wondering what the artist was thinking while creating a certain piece. He said hosting these artists gives people an opportunity to ask.
“I very much enjoy the fact that I bring the artist right to campus — they can get it straight from the ‘horse’s mouth.’”
The Walker Fine Arts Gallery has hosted local and regional artists as well as artists from as far as Philadelphia and San Francisco. In addition, the gallery has worked closely with other educational institutions to bring in artists from Virginia Tech, Hollins University, Ferrum College and several community colleges in Virginia.
Bannan said students have been able to learn from nearly 100 artists encompassing a variety of techniques, mediums and inspirations.
During the annual student art show, the PHCC Foundation provides $500 to fund awards for honorable mentions, awards of excellence and best in show. It also provides funding for a purchase prize, a special award given to the student whose work is purchased for PHCC’s student collection.
“We’ve been building this collection of student artwork for many years,” Bannan said. “It’s mostly displayed in the upper floor of the library, and a couple of pieces are in the president’s residence. … This art show is usually the most anticipated show in our exhibition calendar. It’s very popular with the college community, faculty and staff.”
The PHCC Foundation also is looking for a sponsor who would like to name the art gallery.
“We’re very proud of the speakers who come here and talk to our students,” Bannan said. “I feel like we’re doing something significant. It would be great if someone were willing to put their name on our gallery and gives us some support.”
All shows at the Walker Fine Arts Gallery are free and open to the public.