With an ink pen and charcoal, Kaylin Mansir drew, shaded and smudged.
The Gardiner Area High School sophomore didn’t know what she was working on, really. All she knew was that she had to reproduce the lines and patches of light and dark from the three images she’d been given onto three 7.75-by-7.75-inch squares of paper.
Mansir also isn’t sure what to expect when her three squares are assembled with 357 others into 10 portraits Thursday at the University of Maine at Augusta’s Danforth Gallery.
“I have no idea,” she said. “That’s why I’m excited to see what it becomes.”
Mansir and her 2-D design classmates are part of the Collaborative Portrait Project, which drew on the talents of 10 central Maine art teachers and more than 200 of their students to create large-scale portraits of local organic farmers.
Each portrait started with a black-and-white photograph by Gardiner photographer Allison McKeen, which was then divided into a six-by-six grid to create 36 squares. The pieces were scrambled and distributed to the art teachers, whose students reproduced them in a variety of media.
The portraits will be reassembled during the first half-hour or so of the exhibit’s opening reception, which is scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday.
“That’s the magical moment,” said Susan Bickford, the project’s organizer. “When the images emerge, they’re in a state of becoming. It’s exciting. It’s like they’re being born, in a way.”
Bickford has assigned similar projects in her art classes at UMA and watched the students coalesce as they worked together. In a similar way, she wanted to bring local schools together through collaboration rather than their usual competitive interactions in sports and other areas.
The Collaborative Portrait Project also was inspired by CSA: Community Supporting Arts, a project of local agriculture and arts organizations in 2012 and 2013 that paired artists with farms, many of which Bickford recruited to take part in the Collaborative Portrait Project.
With the help of a grant and supplies donated by A.C. Moore, the project provided schools with high-quality paper, pens, ink brushes and black and white paint.
The schools involved are Camden Hills Regional School, Cony High School, Gardiner Area High School, Lewiston High School, Maranacook Community High School, Palermo Consolidated School, Winslow High School, Winthrop High School and Wiscasset High School. A group of home-schooled students in the Whitefield area also is involved.
Winthrop senior Amanda Burke said she was initially scared to have her work shown in public, but her excitement and curiosity drowned out her nervousness as she saw the work she and her classmates were producing.
“I’m looking forward to seeing so many different students from other classes that did the same exact thing we did, and being able to look at everyone’s art as one,” Burke said. “Adults don’t think kids have the talent yet, so having the parents look at it and other adults is going to give us the satisfaction that we can do what we want.”
Gardiner Area High School art teacher Meghann Gipson said she volunteered her students for the project to connect them with the larger community — both other schools and the farmers — and because it’s rare for high school students’ work to be shown publicly.
She also saw the project as an opportunity for her students to practice drawing techniques such as hatching or pointillism, as well as media ranging from ink washes to newspaper collage.
“So many things now are moving from handmade to digitized, and this was taking something digitized and bringing it back to handmade,” Gipson said.
Gipson invited farmer Dalziel Lewis into class to talk about the source of food and the life of a farmer, and students did an assignment that involved setting up a farmstand to be visually appealing.
Gardiner senior Trevor Quirion said he learned that farmers care deeply about people who eat their food, and he saw some parallels between farming and art.
“You can lose yourself in them both,” he said.
Other teachers also had farmers visit their classes. Winthrop High School art teacher Mary Dyer invited one of her former students, Anne Trenholm, from Wholesome Holmstead farm in Winthrop.
“We had discussions about the passion of an artist and how it is very similar to the passion of a farmer — the work ethic, the connection to the environment, to the land, the expressive nature of both of those,” Dyer said.
When an image is divided into pieces, many of them become abstract without the context of the larger whole. Some were still identifiable — Quirion knew one of his three squares was someone’s neck, and Burke intentionally chose a couple of faces — but most became exercises in shape and shading. Some students said they weren’t sure if they’d be able to identify their squares in the complete portraits.
For Mansir, the mystery and the collaboration were all part of the fun.
“You get to make something small,” she said, “and then it becomes something big.”