Students Bring Art Outdoors for En Plein Air Day

By Huguenot Lake, students painted the scenery of their school campus, while not far away, their schoolmates used tongs to carefully lift pottery that been fired in the 1,850-degree heat of raku kilns.  
The occasion was En Plein Air day at New Rochelle High School, when students from six art classes practice their painting, pottery firing and photography outdoors.
"It's such a wonderful opportunity to be out here, to be able to look at nature and paint what you see," said senior Adam Jones, who has participated in en plein air all of his four years at the school. He was painting a gnarled tree across the lake from the French Norman-style school building that overlooks it.
"We have the most gorgeous campus in Westchester County," said art teacher Alexi Brock. "Why not take advantage of it?"
The raku pottery - ceramic jars, bowls and even rings - were fired in Japanese-style kilns that burn so hot, the air inside turns to an orange shimmer. Once the pieces were done, students removed them carefully, with arm-length tongs, and placed them in drums with newspaper and other combustible materials for post-firing reduction, which draws out surprising hues from the glaze with the flames. Finally, the works are "quenched" in water from the lake to cool down.
"This process is special because it brings out these metallic colors," said teacher Joanna Schomber.
Other pieces are left white, without glaze, but then are touched with strands of horse hair that singe into unpredictable, random curlicue marks.
"We put the horse hair on it and let nature take its course," said Julia Alvarado, a senior.
The painting students' challenge was to create their landscape of the high school building overlooking the lake, or trees, using only tertiary colors. No pure blue, red, yellow. No secondary colors either. The half-joking rule of thumb was, if you could name the color, it didn't count.
It was a challenge, but for freshman Amanda Cao, it was ultimately liberating to discover the range of colors that could be created.
"It's a lot easier to make more accurate colors," she said. "I think it gives you more freedom."