Nineteen high schoolers said goodbye to working on their summer tans by the pool and hello to a windowless basement, where they furiously sketched on a recent Monday morning.
With fingers, hands and the occasional cheek smudged with charcoal, they stood in a circle of easels in Colorado College's Armstrong Hall. The object of their attention - a clothed, live female model - stood patiently on a raised platform in the middle of the group.
The students, affectionately known as "Sharpies," are artistically gifted students who were accepted into one of three two-week-long summer seminars at the Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation. The program, which started June 16, ends Saturday. Each session concludes with an exhibit of the work created by the students during the two weeks. The reception is Friday night in Packard Hall.
The program, which is in its 27th year, is the only free program of its kind in the country, said Joyce Robinson, president of the foundation. Students only pay for transportation to and from the Springs. Each year, out of an undisclosed number of applicants, 60 students are chosen - usually 20 per session. It's open to anybody who will have finished their junior year in high school by the time the seminar begins. They come from all over the country, including Colorado Springs, and occasionally from outside the country.
"The goal, I tell them, is to leave their baggage at the door," said Robinson, who helped found the program in 1987. "The way you have always drawn or the way you think you should draw, forget it."
Just earning acceptance to the seminar is a boon for the participants' future.
"Art schools vie for these kids if they've been through the program," Robinson said.
It's a good way to figure out what part art will play in each of their lives.
"The students are very serious, on one hand," she said, "and on the other hand, are wondering, 'Is this really what I want to do?'"
They live in Montgomery Hall on the CC campus, and live and breathe art for 14 days. Visiting instructors teach morning drawing sessions and afternoon painting sessions. Didier William, a Brooklyn-based painter and printmaker from Haiti, leads them drawing in the third session, and classically trained painter Leslie Smith III guides the painting. Workshops, lectures and other activities occupy their evenings. The students also spend a few days traveling and working in the Crestone area and the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
"I'm the first person from my school to get in," said 16-year old Amy Carlson from Burlington, Iowa. "It's nice to be with people who are strong (artists). I want portfolio pieces, skill and to figure out where I'm going to college."
Marie Walsh Sharpe was a local philanthropist who died at the age of 95 in 1985, Robinson said. Though not an artist herself, she was dedicated to helping struggling artists and developing the talent in younger artists. Her will called upon Robinson to start the foundation.
"They get an actual portfolio that gets them into art school. That's the tangible," said Jeremiah Houck, on-site coordinator for the seminar and a pottery instructor at Bemis School of Art. "The intangible is it's a great way for them to think about art in a new way and what being an art student is before college."
Jennifer Mulson can be reached at 636-0270.Summer Seminar Who: Marie Sharpe Art Foundation What: Opening reception of artwork from third session When: 7:30-9 p.m. Friday Where: Packard Hall, Colorado College, 5 W. Cache La Poudre St. Tickets: Free; 635-3220, http://sharpe artfdn.qwestoffice.net