April 20, 2022
Two Highlands University students graduating with their Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees and one Highlands faculty member completing a post-baccalaureate certificate, will exhibit consecutive solo art shows through mid-May. The three artists exhibiting work are Louise la Plante, Erika Derkas, and Estrella “Star” Encinias.
The first exhibition, “Creative Quest from an Empty Nest,” opens on April 19 and runs through May 1 and will feature art by Louise la Plante, who is earning her BFA. The opening reception for the show will be held at the Donnelly Library Ray Drew Gallery on Friday, April 29 from 5 to 7 p.m., with an artist talk at 6 p.m.
La Plante is a Clinical Social Worker who works with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and she said she was motivated to complete her BFA as an outlet for her creativity and to deepen her skills in a range of artistic mediums.
“The show reflects influences from many walks of my life, including family and work,” said la Plante. “My work has always been a big part of my art—therapy for the therapist.”
La Plante said her work offers a range of different topics and is organized by theme. Although much of her work is very colorful, she said some of her more recent work has darker tones and a more direct and sometimes political message.
La Plante said she’s older than the average art student and she hopes her work will send the message to viewers that no one is ever too old to make beautiful and interesting art. She credits the intimate experience in the Highlands University art department with her development as an artist.
“Todd Christianson is really such a good teacher; you just keep learning from him with every class,” said la Plante. “And Shereen Lobdell has been our art history teacher and it’s really impacted my art. I’ve learned a great deal from David Lobdell as well.”
The post-baccalaureate art exhibition will feature art by Erika Derkas, sociology and gender & women’s studies professor, and co-director of the Highlands University LGBTQIA and Women’s Advocacy Center. The exhibition, “The Ancients,” will open at the Burris Hall Gallery on May 2 and runs through May 15, with an artist reception on May 6 from 5 to 7 p.m., with an artist talk at 6 p.m.
Derkas said that the tuition waiver faculty and staff receive at Highlands enabled her to complete a post-baccalaureate certificate in fine art. She said she has been taking art classes for eight years, with a focus on sculpture.
“My father was an artist and I’ve dabbled in art most of my life but had never committed to it fully, so this was a step to make it more formal,” said Derkas. “I do metal sculpture, primarily iron and a few bronze pieces.”
Derkas said art instructor and leader in the international cast iron art movement, David Lobdell, has been her mentor for many years. Her participation in the biannual community Iron Tribe iron pour events, created by Lobdell, helped Derkas to formalize her commitment to her art.
“It’s been just an incredible experience. The work that’s done in iron is really amazing,” said Derkas. “It’s nice that it’s a small community because we get to know each other and it’s very supportive.”
Derkas said working in iron is physically demanding because artists have to find and break their own iron. As a feminist scholar, Derkas find the work rewarding and says there are quite a few women who also work in iron.
“My show’s title is ‘The Ancients’ which is a reference to iron. It regenerates into the earth and comes back and becomes a major part of industry,” said Derkas. “And then there are shifts in technology and it gets thrown away and we go around and collect radiators and bathtubs and have to break our own iron—it’s just a really incredible process. I’m all about the process.”
Derkas said her sculptures are all abstract forms inspired by the natural world. She said her work speaks to the tensions that exist between human relationships with the natural world, but that her primary goal is to create aesthetically pleasing work that will engage viewers and create a sense of regeneration.
The final show is a BFA exhibition by Estrella “Star” Encinias, opens at the Ray Drew Gallery on May 4 and runs through May 20. The artist reception will take place on May 13 from 5 to 7 p.m., with an artist talk at 6 p.m.
Encinias said curiosity drives her and her exhibition encompasses a broad range of artistic mediums because she enjoys all mediums and learning as much as she can.
“I do a lot of figurative works of human portraits and bodies, and I also do a lot of snakes,” said Encinias.
Encinias said painting and jewelry are among her favorite mediums and she thinks these works will communicate a sense of happiness and fun to viewers.
“I’ve always been an artist, but in high school my art teacher introduced me to the program here,” said Encinias. “And it’s right at home, my family’s here, and so it was a chance for me to pursue this and be close to home and do something I love.”
Encinias said her surreal work sometimes has personal meaning, but that she hopes viewers will connect to the beauty of her work. She also hopes her solo show will yield some sales and following graduation she hopes to seek out work as a studio assistant while continuing to make and sell her own work.
All three artists agree that the fine arts program at Highlands University offers unique opportunities for learning and exploration.
“The faculty here are pretty humble, but also pretty connected and celebrated artists themselves, and they give a lot back to us. They’re not just supportive, but they introduce us to different avenues and experiences,” said Derkas. “Louise and Star both said having a small program is really beneficial for us as students, and we’re all pretty appreciative of that.”