COLORA — Dream visions of walking underwater, watching the Loch Ness Monster float by and reaching out to touch a dinosaur are up for classmate critique during a recent art class at West Nottingham Academy.

The students, who are seniors at West Nottingham, the independent co-ed school in Colora for boarding and day students in grades 9 through 12, share what they like and what they would like to improve in their work. Students comment on the texture of the dinosaur’s scales and the depiction of one student’s self portrait set against the Northern Lights, among other topics.

The content in each picture varies, but each shares the theme of adding an element of the extraordinary. That’s done at the suggestion of teacher Jacob Hicks, whose own art is a colorful amalgam of images from real life, myths and folklore.

West Nottingham welcomed Hicks as the school’s first artist in residence this September. He is the first of three artists who will teach and show work at Nottingham this year.

Although Hicks comes from a family of teachers, this is his first time at the front of a classroom. His first day jitters were relatively short-lived.

“As soon as I started working with the kids, all of the nervousness went away and it was just art,” said Hicks, 28, who grew up in Midland, Texas, and now resides in New York City. Hicks is a 2012 Master of Fine Arts graduate of New York Academy of Fine Art.

The residency program was made possible through Eric Fischl, an artist and ‘66 alumnus of West Nottingham, in collaboration with the New York Academy of Fine Art.

Each trimester, a new artist will arrive on the West Nottingham campus to exhibit their work in the school’s gallery, teach two sections of students and present their work to the West Nottingham community in the form of an artist talk. School officials hope the program will continue indefinitely.

The idea for the program came about after Tom Oxholm, director of development for the school, and headmaster Stephen Brotschul visited Fischl in April. Oxholm and Brotschul both recently joined West Nottingham and were on a mission to contact alumni. Fischl broached the subject of establishing the program as a way he could help the school and the art program.

In many schools, budget constraints mean cuts to arts programming. Although art classes are a required part of the curriculum for students at West Nottingham, the residency brings new life to the arts, said Oxholm. He added the gallery is also open to the community.

“It’s been a great experience for all parties,” Oxholm said. “It’s really helped us and our kids and our community to really learn. Each of these residents are bringing a different skill set or strength.”

The school does not release details about donations. Through the program, each artist in residence receives an $8,000 stipend, private studio on campus, apartment in the faculty dormitory, meals and access to a car when needed.

Hicks is now nearly done his term at West Nottingham and will return to New York at the end of the month. On Tuesday, his students will present their completed pieces in the Gates Gallery at West Nottingham.

While at West Nottingham, Hicks has taught two classes, one for beginners and another for students a level up, about 20 students total. He also makes time to talk with students in the Advanced Placement art classes who are applying to study art in college.

“I want them to see that art is not something that should be thought of as not important,” Hicks said.

Hicks developed an interest in art by taking classes at a young age, but started college studying cinematography and anthropology. Max Ernst, Andrew Wyeth and Rogier van der Weyden are among a long list of artists Hicks counts as inspirations.

Having another perspective on art available on campus has helped West Nottingham’s lone art teacher, Trish Kuhlman. Kuhlman, who studied illustration at the University of Delaware, said she has noticed students picking up Hicks’ style and expressing an interest in the old masters, or European works from before 1800.

“He helps them learn in a different way,” said Kuhlman.

West Nottingham’s art program aims to encourage creation or an appreciation of art. For TaShawn Colbert, a senior at West Nottingham from Baltimore, Hicks’ class has opened up the world of art. Colbert’s hobby is photography and she decided to “try something new” by taking the class.

“Being in his class shows me art isn’t easy. It made me respect artists more,” Colbert said. “Art isn’t just a class anymore.”

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