February 24 to March 28, 2023, for the second year in a row, the Linda Matney Gallery has provided a unique opportunity for students pursuing degrees in art at the College of William and Mary to showcase their work in a professional capacity. For most of the year, the quaint gallery, located here in Williamsburg, VA, is filled with pieces from seasoned artists, but for one week a year, College seniors’ capstone projects take over the museum for the public’s full view.
The Matney Gallery’s “about” website page indicates that “the gallery was founded by John Lee Matney to exhibit innovative and emerging artwork from both national and international artists,” and its display of student artwork is designed to fulfill this purpose. John Lee Matney founded the gallery in memory of his late mother Linda Matney after she lost her battle with cancer in 2001. The small art museum can be found down Richmond Road and is open to the public five days a week. With a rich collection of art and strong ties to the college, it provides a small yet intriguing slice of the art world to both locals and students alike.
Upon entering the gallery, one would be hard-pressed to miss its large quantity of art on display. While the wall and floor space of the museum isn’t the largest, the curator makes the most of it so that no part of the room is wasted. Along the walls hang paintings, drawings and even fabrics, while the middle of the room houses sculptures and ceramics. And keeping in line with the idea of helping aspiring artists at the College, it was the participating student seniors themselves who framed and exhibited their work.
“It was up to all of us when it came to making the frames as well as organizing the space,” Chris Eliades ’23, a senior whose capstone project was displayed in the Matney Gallery, said. “Our professor was there in order to give feedback and also be the overseer of everything. However, he did give us a lot of the reins when organizing everything, which was exciting.”
Many of the pieces that were shown had a monochromatic theme to them, intentionally chosen by the curator and professors working on the exhibit. These black and white pieces were a distinct new addition to the gallery; in the past, most of the works on display were vibrant and colorful in nature.
When discussing the monochromatic nature of the featured art, Matney discussed the importance of looking inside oneself as not just a viewer, but as an artist as well.
“We have other arts that are very dark,” Matney said, reflecting on the deep nature of many of the works. “The psychology of it, I think, the mission of it is so people can explore the darkness, and we want them to be able to explore the psychology in the works here.”
Many of the works featured in this exhibit do just that: the photographs, paintings and other artistic mediums on display feature monochromatic color schemes to make spectators ponder upon complex ideas, such as one’s internal darkness.
Another adjustment present in this year’s student gallery was the abundance of three-dimensional statues and ceramic art. Matney stated that he was very pleased with this and viewed it as a welcomed change, as everything from miniature ceramic pots to bronze statues to clay busts were all captivating components in this year’s capstone exhibit.
Matney’s collaboration with professors of the College has allowed students the opportunity to display their works professionally in this nationally known gallery, which helps prepare students for an art career beyond their years in the College. While showing their art to the public is essential to jumpstart any long-term career in the art world, what is significant about this exhibit is that each student’s work is also for sale at professional prices, meaning the students can reap substantial material gains as well. Each student is individually interviewed about their work, and the discussions are subsequently posted on the gallery’s YouTube page. Each piece is put up for sale on the museum’s database, where art collectors view works and learn about the artist who made them.
“I think it’s interesting to show student work in a gallery that works with nationally significant artists, rather than putting them in an arts and crafts situation,” Matney said. “Their art has become an investment of quality that can be a factor in the trajectory of their careers.”
This experience is quite rare for college students, as the opportunity to show one’s art in a professional setting is seldom available at the university level.
“It gives us a way of working on this kind of thing in the real world that we don’t usually get inside the William and Mary community,” Sophie Cassidy ’23 said, as a senior who participated in the capstone exhibit.
“It’s an internship and a mentorship,” Matney said regarding the practical application of his gallery’s partnership with the College. “Part of the art market is kind of a Wild West, and I like to teach students about the ethics and realities of the art world.”
Not only can students walk away with financial compensation for their works, but thanks to Matney’s collaboration with the College’s professors, these students additionally walk away with elevated knowledge of the art world to help them in their futures.
“It’s a learning experience of putting all of the information together with our artist statements, pricing our works, getting to meet with Mr. Matney,” Eliades said. “And learning how to properly network as a professional is a big thing that we got to take away.”
While the Matney Gallery displays unique works of art from around the country, it also provides a space for budding artists to display and sell their work, in addition to preparing students for the confusing art world after they graduate. This special opportunity gives students experience for their future careers while simultaneously making them confident in their craft for their post-graduate life.