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UAlbany students and alumni earn top awards in one of the region's prestigious, juried art exhibitions.

Three UAlbany masterís of fine arts candidates and two alumni received top awards in the Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region Juried Exhibition, which opened July 8 atBack row l-r: Ken Ragsdale, Jenny McShan and Michael Oatman; Front row l-r: Chris Cassidy and Harold Lohner the University Art Museum. M.F.A. student Christopher Cassidy won the Swyer Companies Best in Show Award for his work From Albany to the Adirondacks. Kenneth Ragsdale (M.F.A. candidate) won the Times Union Jurorís Award for his work Farmyard I, II, III, IV. It also won the UAlbany Purchase prize. Alum Michael Oatman, M.F.A.í92, won the Friends of Mayor Jennings Jurorís Award for his work, The Birds, which was also the Albany Institute of History & Artís Purchase Prize. M.F.A. student Jenny McShan won the Austin & Co., Inc. Jurorís Award for her work The Twelve Realms of Purity. The McGreevy ProLab Gift was awarded to Harold Lohner, B.A.í80, M.A. í82, M.F.A. í84. The awards were presented to the artists at the exhibitionís opening reception on July 10.

A total of 17 artists were selected to display 35 of their works, which include painting, ceramics, mixed media installations, printmaking and photography, at the exhibition, which runs through November 1, 2003 and is free and open to the public.

Christopher Cassidyís mixed media installation entitled From Albany to the Adirondacks (2002) won special recognition as the Swyer Companies Best in ShowChris Cassidy's mixed media installation entitled "From Albany to the Adirondacks" Award at the Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region Juried Exhibition currently on display at the University Art Museum. Cassidy is an M.F.A. candidate in the Universityís Fine Arts program and his work was singled out over thirty-five other works of art presented by 17 regional winners. It is also his second award in nearly as many months.

His other award, a commission for a sculpture for the UAlbany student residence complex, Empire Commons, was chosen recently by President Karen Hitchcock and will be displayed permanently over the fireplace in the community center. Cassidyís entry won out over more than 35 other student entries. The sculpture is a series of brick tiles mounted together to show a topographic landscape of the Capital Region bounded by the Taconic HillsChris Cassidy to the east and the Heldebergs on the western side.

The similarities between Cassidyís work for the Mohawk Hudson exhibition and the Empire Commons sculpture are evident. Both pieces sprang from his interests in the outdoors and also from his desire to somehow "place" himself in the new landscape where he now makes his home. Originally from Philadelphia, Cassidy received his B.F.A. in 1989 from the University of the Arts (formerly the Philadelphia College of Art). He moved to Albany to begin his graduate work in sculpture. Like many new students, he endured a period of homesickness. His love of the outdoors, hiking and kayaking helped orient him and connect him to his new geographical place. Creating his topographical sculptures has had the effect of "rooting" him to his new environment. "Both were projects where everything just coalesced," said Cassidy. "All my interests could be put into my art."

Cassidy teaches at the University and also has his M.F.A. exhibit to prepare, but feels he can still manage to meet the early November deadline for completion of the Empire Commons sculpture. Cassidyís feelings of integration with his environment will play out in the brickwork tiles of the Empire Commons sculpture, as it will be seamlessly integrated with the existing brick of the fireplace, giving the impression that it has been there from the very beginning.

As an associate professor of art at Sage College of Albany, Harold Lohner, B.A.í80, M.A. í82, M.F.A.í84, passes on what he learned at UAlbany to his students ĖHarold Lohner that there is value in art and in working hard. He inspires them, as he was inspired, to push an idea.

Lohner is no newcomer to the Mohawk Hudson Juried Exhibition. In fact 25 years ago, when he first entered the long-running exhibit, his work won the "Purchase" award --it was purchased by the Schenectady Museum. To a budding artist it was validation of his chosen profession. His work in this exhibit -- The Long Sleep, is a beautiful, languorous series of six monoprints loosely hung together. The somnolent figures, all sleeping, form a textured landscape, which the juror, Maura Heffner, described as "narrative studies executed masterfully." Lohnerís work won the McGreevy ProLab award.

Michael Oatman received his undergraduate degree from the Rhode Island School of Design and M.F.A. from UAlbany in 1992 in painting. Oatman admits that his work, primarily in painting, has dramatically changed in the last year as he began working inMichael Oatman collage. His current piece for the Mohawk Hudson show, The Birds, won the Friends of Mayor Jennings Jurorís Award and also was purchased by the Albany Institute of History and Art. It is a large installation that contains over 400 individual pieces glued to a computer-generated background. The birds depicted in the collage, with an ironic combination of humor and apocalyptic mood, are birds of war. The viewer is challenged to think of what the world might look like if birds were at the top of the chain and were proponents of militarism or violence.

Common themes in his usual large scale pieces Ė issues of public policy, inspired by Bosch and Bruegel Ė are themes traceable to his graduate work at UAlbany where professors and guest artists had more impact on him than he ever expected. He left UAlbany making a different kind of art than when he first came into the program. " I realized that I wanted my artwork to be more public." Likewise his peers influenced him. "There was a feeling of integration--not just separate disciplines, one for painters, one for sculptors. Ideas were commonly shared and you got inspiration from other artists and their work."

Jenny McShanís The Twelve Realms of Purity investigates the parallels between race and morality with delicious looking results. As background to the origins of this unusual piece, she relates that she was appalled to learn one day that there were only two kinds ofJenny McShan wedding cake toppers Ė one white couple, one African-American couple. "There was nothing in between to suggest the melting pot where I grew up," she said. "I wanted to address the issue and do something that represents all the different shades of people." Taking the iconic figures of the typical wedding cake bride and groom, she cast a mold from a store-bought African American wedding cake couple and then created twelve separate renderings of the couple in chocolate, ranging from light to dark. The couples are displayed on what looks like a store shelf.

This unique work in chocolate is a far cry from her early interest in bronze casting. The northern California native has a wide range of interests and experiences including but not limited to horse racing, catering and cooking, costume design, photography, and film making. She used her mold making and cooking skills to come up with the thought-provoking entry for the Mohawk Hudson exhibit.

With her bachelorís degree from Californian State University-Hayward, McShan came to UAlbany because she was first impressed that there was an actual foundry in the art department where she could continue with her love of bronze casting, but more than that, she just wanted to be some place new. "I love learning new things and my experience here has been to experiment, which is very exciting." The close proximity to big cities like Boston and New York has helped convince her that her decision to come here was a good one. Sheís even submitted to winter and bought herself a pair of cross-country skis.

Ken Ragsdale had a long list of criteria when choosing a university to pursue his graduate work. It had to be in a town big enough for his wife to get a job, the school had to have great faculty, and he needed to teach, not just to support his education, but because that was something he loved to do. He had been teaching during the ten yearsKen Ragsdale since earning his B.F.A. at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon. He found all those things and more at UAlbany where he teaches figure drawing and basic drawing as a graduate assistant while pursuing his M.F.A.

The piece titled Farmyard I, is the winner of the UAlbany Purchase prize and the Times Union Jurorís Award. This was his first entry to the Mohawk Hudson exhibition and it was a chance to expand and push himself toward a new kind of work. "The faculty push you hard here Ė itís what they are supposed to do, thatís why Iím here," said Ragsdale. "When they were critical of the direction of my painting, it challenged me to push myself further."

"Everything I do is about memory and perception," he said. "The projects may all look different, but thematically itís all grounded in memory." His paintings take a multi-step journey. First he creates his own still life Ė creating models that he then photographs. He is also working on projects which involve making a drawing from the photo and finally making a painting based on that drawing. "The audience should feel a sense of a dreamlike quality," he explains.

Exhibit juror Maura Heffner cites Kenís work as deserving special appreciation for its rich tonality, as well as its intriguing subject matter.

For more information visit the University Art Museum.

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