PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — When Jacob McKenney first saw his watercolor sunset hanging at the Aroostook Centre Mall as part of the fifth annual Essence of the North Student Art Exhibit, his first reaction was, “Wow!”

“That’s basically it … just ‘Wow!’” he said at the March 15 reception. “I was excited when my art teacher told me I was going to have something on display. I was thinking that’s pretty cool.”

McKenney, a seventh-grader at Central Aroostook Junior-Senior High School in Mars Hill, said of the various mediums, he likes drawing the most.

“I wouldn’t consider myself great at drawing, but I think I’m OK,” he said. “I guess I’m OK at painting, too, because my watercolor was chosen to be put at the mall. I think art is something that I’m going to continue with in my free time. It’s fun.

“I draw quite a bit. I usually draw things like dogs, people and houses,” the 13-year-old said. “It doesn’t really bother me that other people are going to see my artwork and possibly make an opinion. It’s my opinion that matters, and I think my piece is great. I spent quite a bit of time on it … like five or six days during art class.”

Sponsored by the Northern pARTners Aroostook County Regional Art Educators, this year’s show features a few hundred selected art pieces from students in Caribou, Limestone, Connor, Easton, St. Agatha, Frenchville, Hodgdon, Houlton, Mars Hill, Presque Isle, Mapleton, Ashland and Washburn.

“March is Youth Art Month and this is a chance for us to celebrate the artistic accomplishments of our kids and the great things that happen throughout schools in Aroostook County,” said Sue Beaulier, art teacher at Ashland District School and member of the Northern pARTners.

“I’m very pleased with what I see,” she said. “I’ve been working over the past year with the Maine Department of Education on the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative, so I’ve looked at a lot of artwork from a lot of schools around the state and I think ours is right on level with everyone else’s and maybe even better. We do a good job promoting our programs and celebrating our kids.”

Acacia Kimball, 18, a senior at Easton High School, has a “mirrored image” piece on display.

“This is my second year having something here; I had a piece featured last year,” she said. “I used to want to be an artist, but after I found out how much it was going to cost I realized I don’t have the money to do that, so I’m going to get a job and hopefully go back to art school because I really want to do stuff like this.

“I try to do art as much as possible, but being a senior I have so much other stuff to have to do like applying for college and filling out scholarships. It actually makes me happy to do art. It’s my own creativity and not what other people are making me do. I do as many kinds as I can, but I really like painting … like landscapes,” said Kimball. “In the last few years I’ve found my artistic abilities and just went with it. I’m actually really amazed at how good the artwork here is for the grade level and the age. I think that if you find something that you’re good at and you really like to do, you should continue doing it.”

The student artwork, which represents 13 Aroostook County school districts, will be on display through April 6 in the gallery space located near the arcade.

“We invite everyone to share the successes of our students and check it out,” said Beaulier.