WITHOUT haste, Charles Young lifts a sketch from a table covered with sketches and places it on a bare shelf. He turns back to the table, his deliberate glance roving over the pile of pictures, pausing, studying another drawing. He picks it up.
The job is to select 35 pictures for the Duke Ellington School's annual student exhibition at the Folger Museum Sunday to April 9. Young, head of the art department at University of the District of Columbia, is an old hand at judging art shows. But it is usually done by a jury of three or more. This is his first solo.
"Now this one--" he picks out a crayon portrait of a boy in a knitted toque, done on brown paper--"it breaks the formal rules, it's kind of primitive, the eye isn't right. But there's a quality about it. You can see something of that kid in there . . ."
At least 150 sketches, oils, pencil studies, watercolors, woodcuts, clay masks, raku pots and other sculptures lie around the room waiting to be judged. Young moves swiftly. Himself a painter who has shown in Washington, Trenton, N.J., and Nashville, he works mostly in watercolors. He studies a watercolor portrait.
"This one, she knows how to handle watercolor. It's a bit of a cliche', but it's well done. Good color sense."
He points to a painting where the student artist, unsure how to deal with foreshortening, darkened an area to hide the problem. That one didn't make it. Another had done a strong study of clothes on a hanger, the folds carefully observed, the colors definite, "but look here, this corner bothers me a little": The artist had put an open window at the very edge, a distraction. That one did make it.
Most of the works here were class exercises, giving him a chance to see how several students handled the same subject, notably a collection of high-heeled shoes. He chose one that seemed cleaner and simpler than the others, one that made it look easy to draw. He also liked a delicate pencil study of a paper bag and a seemingly simple woodcut: "Nice use of space."
Young, who teaches painting and Afro-American art history, says he looks at three things: the composition, depending on subject, medium and style; the craftsmanship, including the matting and general professionalism; the creativity. Sometimes a work will violate the rules but will create its own standards, he notes. He expects considerably more from Ellington, the D.C. system's school of the arts, than he would from a regular high school.
Now he has it down to about 40, so he goes over the pile again. With a gentle smile he points out the influence here and there of a teacher he knows: Bill Harris's stippling turns up on a fine head. Another portrait clearly depicts Cathy Conn, head of the visual arts department.
There are almost no abstracts. Two fashion drawings remind one that commercial art is a major goal for many of these students. Their work is serious, concentrated, ambitious. Some of the ones who don't make this selection will show up in the Ellington Gallery Senior Show, March 24 to April 8 at the school, 35th and Reservoir Road NW.
"Sometimes you find somebody really special in a high school show," Young muses. photos 1&2: Rodney Little (left) and Shawn Fenty: Their art was picked for museum show Detail of "Sophisticated Fashion" by Rodney Little.