Exhibition honors graduating seniors, retiring art teacher


Thad Allender / lawrence.com

A plaster model created by Lawrence High artist Patrick Roberts decorates the atmosphere at Roy's Gallery, 1410 Kasold, as retired art teacher Pat Nemchock passes by a wall of paintings. LHS students who won scholarships at art schools and universities are the featured artists at the gallery in west Lawrence.

The Lawrence High School seniors whose art is hanging through the end of May at Roy's Gallery have a lot to be proud of.

Their paintings, ceramics, sculptures, drawings and mixed media pieces are getting exposure in a professional art gallery for the first time, an event most hope portends their future in the world of art.

Moreover, the work represents portfolio selections that art schools across the country have deemed worthy enough to award partial- and, in some cases, full-tuition scholarships for LHS students to attend their programs.

But the students can't help but feel a little bittersweet about the event. After all, it's the last time they'll show work created under the tutelage of their much-beloved high school art teacher, Pat Nemchock. In fact, they're the last graduating class she'll guide through high school. Nemchock is retiring after 29 years at LHS and 34 years overall teaching.

"I love it, but it's just a tremendous commitment of my life," she said Wednesday as she helped students arrange work at Roy's Gallery, 1410 Kasold Drive. "I'm leaving feeling sad but ready to see what other challenges await me."

Critic and cheerleader

  • Through Friday 05.30Lawrence Senior High ExhibitRoy's Gallery, 1410 Kasold Drive
  • more info

By all accounts, Nemchock has good reason to feel a bit worn out. She's the chairwoman of the LHS art department, overseeing all things "arts" at the school, and, during her tenure, has spent a great deal of time crisscrossing the United States, scouting out art schools for her students.

Her students say she has worked tirelessly on their behalf and, though she can be a tough critic, she's also a great cheerleader.

"She's very passionate," said LHS senior Mary Moddrell, who will attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design next fall on scholarship. "She wants her students to excel, and she'll do anything to help them. She's a very good teacher. Anything you need help on, she's there offering new ideas.

"I was talking to my admissions counselor at MIAD, and she regards Mrs. Nemchock as one of the best high school art teachers in the country."

Senior Crystal Poull agreed.

"It's definitely difficult, and she expects your best, but everyone who has graduated from the program that is going to art school, we owe it all to her pushing us and helping us and caring about us," said Poull, who has a scholarship to attend the Maryland Institute College of Art. "We've all been thanking our lucky stars that we had her all three years. I know that a lot of underclassmen are very upset that she won't be there next year."

Under Nemchock's guidance, this year's crop of graduating seniors has earned $1.7 million in merit scholarships to attend art schools nationwide.

That's pretty phenomenal, but it's no surprise, said Wendy Vertacnik, an LHS art teacher.

"She's just had an absolutely incredible art program," Vertacnik said. "She just cares so much about her students. She does it all for them, and she's just an incredibly energetic person and puts so much time and effort into introducing new concepts. She's able to break it down into something they can understand and they can grasp and get excited about.

"I'm going to miss her terribly."

Invaluable connections

With Nemchock's exit, LHS loses 29 years of invaluable connections to art institutions across the country.

"I literally have gone and visited -- I think there might be a couple that I haven't been to their campus -- just about every school that I send kids to sometime over the course of the 29 years," she said. "When I tell the kids and their parents this is the strength of this school, I'm speaking from experience."

Nemchock has been the Kansas Art Education Assn.'s Secondary Art Teacher of the Year, the Lawrence Schools Foundation's Educator of the Year and was this year's Lawrence Public Schools Secondary Teacher of the Year.

"She's incredible," said senior Zeke Altenbernd, who also has a scholarship to attend the Maryland Institute College of Art next fall. "She's done so much for all the seniors, anyone who's dedicated to trying to get into art school. She goes out of her way and then some to try to help you."

That's what it's all about for Nemchock.

"That's the greatest thing: to see the smile on their face and for them to realize that they're actually going to be able to go and they are able to get scholarship money and all their hard work was worth the time and effort," she said. "That's my pay."


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