Nebraska Wesleyan University art students are in good hands.
That is immediately apparent from the impressive work on view in the NWU Department of Art Faculty Show. Six artists, who teach at Wesleyan either as full-time or adjunct professors, have work in the exhibition and cover a range of mediums: painting, photography, ceramics and sculpture.
The only thing missing from the show is new media -- video or digital art. My guess is that some of the faculty have at least experimented with those mediums, but Elder Gallery, like most spaces of its time, isn't equipped for presentation of works that hadn't been envisioned when it was built.
Here's a quick look at each artist's work:
* David Gracie. Nine paintings in the exhibition showcase Gracie's versatility and considerable skill. "U.C.A.V," a tiny 4-by-6-inch landscape with an airplane flying overhead is a study in precision and detail, while a wall-sized untitled piece finds him working in nearly one-to-one scale, depicting kids looking at a tiger through the window in a zoo -- which I'm pretty sure is Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo.
He has a few abstractions, including one that resembles a night sky and a brown-tinged, textured piece that resembles skin. There also is a handful of the portraits that are Gracie's stock in trade. Those images vary in size and expand in content, peaking, for me, with "Right of Return," which shows a woman with a knife and fork digging into a plate of spaghetti.
* Justin Shaw. Shaw's a sculptor with a sense of humor and some great imagination. It's likely impossible to miss the offbeat humor of "Lure," which creates a giant fishing lure out of green and yellow fiberglass with a clear "tongue" sticking in the air. Attached to it are giant fish hooks, and it's wearing a sports coat.
The fish hooks return in "Nebraska Self Portrait," a wall piece that finds Shaw's image on a board with rope, hooks and fishing net attached. But the more impressive of his views of himself is "Portrait Bust (Justin)," a large plaster bust that captures Shaw in great detail -- glasses, well-defined beard, checkered shirt. It's paired with "Portrait Bust (Lisa)," a similarly detailed piece depicting a young woman. They are fully contemporary. But from a distance the busts appear to be classical.
* Susan Horn. Horn's photography contrasts views of landscapes with images of unusual buildings, all shot with an eye for strong composition. That's true of "Rain and Cloud, Near Niobrara, Nebraska," a large inkjet color image of a giant darkening cloud over a green field, as well as a pair of strongly vertical horizon shots.
But it's also the case with her view of man-made structures, such as "Painted Building, Pendleton, Oregon" in which a mural with a dog in the center sits in front of a group of houses, creating a bizarre, instantly eye-catching juxtapostion.
* Lisa Lockman. Lockman's elegant suite of flanged vessels fills much of the gallery's center room. Sitting on pedestals, the vaselike vessels rise from "bases," each of the latter varying in height, space between the flanges and tightness of their group.
The flanges create a captivating variation on a theme, each somehow changing the nature of the vessel by suggesting movement or solidity, strength or openness. Plus the craftsmanship is impeccable.
* Robert Schwieger. Schwieger, whose work I always enjoy, is represented by a pair of wall pieces. In "School Daze: County Fair" a spinning carnival wheel adorned with horses hangs above a race track diorama -- a beautiful, detailed composition in monotype and glass. Next to it is a gorgeous horizontal glass piece titled "Union Pacific," which incorporates the railroad's name with depictions of an old, stylish passenger train.
* Ambrose DeLacey. Sitting on a pedestal next to Schwieger's pieces is an untitled box by DeLacey. Working in a tradition most identified with Joseph Cornell, DeLacey has filled the glass-lidded box, which originally contained a bottle of Cutty Sark whiskey, with lottery tickets and small reproductions of artworks on card, then covered it with a heavy chain -- a sharp commentary on chance in the art world.
DeLacey's second piece is a box, this one small and handcrafted. Inside is a "Student Note" on lined paper that reads "you can't take because you just got a tongue ring." Make of that what you will.
As group shows go, the exhibition is well presented with both complementary and contrasting work in each of the three gallery spaces. It's also sparely presented, with labels providing only name, title and material. That presentation forces the attention onto the work itself -- and it is work that deserves the attention.