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HACC York Campus art students are creating paintings under commission by The Left Bank Restaurant in York. Wochit

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Four art students at HACC York will be able to see their work hang on the walls of downtown York’s fine dining staple The Left Bank later this month and for years to come — and get some cash in their wallets.

After a storm around Valentine's Day caused water damage at the property housing The Left Bank on South George Street, owners Sean and Mandy Arnold started to look for inspiration for a potential refresh.

The timing of the damage was interesting: Sean, or Chef Sean as he’s commonly called, was putting the finishing touches on the restaurant’s new spring menu inspired by the season. It was also the early part of a new semester at local colleges as students and professors prepped for class projects.

The restaurant, known for its downtempo dining area, flashy bar and billing via books, was purchased last year by the married pair.

Shortly after the damage, Mandy met for drinks with former HACC Communications, Humanities and Arts Department chair and professor Will Guntrum, and together they came up with an idea.

Combining the restaurant’s theme of American cuisine, Chef Sean’s expanding flavor profile and its trademark book billing, Chef Sean and Mandy — who is also president and CEO of the York-based digital marketing company Gavin — commissioned pieces from some of Guntrum’s former students to display in the restaurant.

Telling a story: While Mandy wanted the paintings to be inspired by books, she didn’t want to confine the students only to books she’s read or that are in The Left Bank’s library, so she let them choose the books.

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“We wanted to let the stories inspire them in a real way,” she said.

Selected novels include "The Pearl" by John Steinbeck, "The Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan and "The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien, all of which will be added to the restaurant’s library.

Following their book selections, students researched cuisine relating to food mentioned in the written works, took a look at The Left Bank's menu and put paintbrush to canvas.

HACC sophomore Angie Martinez said her mother recommended she read Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” for its connection to oysters and the book’s accompanying life lessons on fortune and greed.

In her oil painting, Martinez stayed mostly within the monochromatic theme requested, but she added a pop of color when necessary.

“Pearls can come in a variety of colors,” she said, so she added a red tomato within one of the oyster shells.

Emmanuel Maisonneuve, a sophomore art student at HACC and a native of France, selected the 2004 wine-centric novel "Sideways" by Rex Pickett and Emile Zola’s 19th-century French classic, "The Belly of Paris."

Opportunity: The four students commissioned for the paintings finished taking an introductory painting class last semester from Guntrum.

Each artist is being paid $500 for two paintings — eight pieces total — with all art supply expenses paid by The Left Bank.

HACC senior Cassie Utz, who painted a poultry dinner based on "The Hobbit," said the opportunity to make art based on another person’s needs “teaches you to think outside of yourself.”

For 18-year-old HACC sophomore Rebekah Lynn, it was an opportunity she didn't take lightly.

“At my age, and the fact that I have any type of qualification for a work (of this level), this feels amazing,” she said.

“I wasn’t expecting anything like this to be happening anytime soon ... it doesn’t feel real.”

Lynn will take her experiences with her as an art student at the Maryland Institute College of Art this fall.

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The chance for students to do real-world commissioned works from a beginner art class is something Marjorie Mattis, dean of academic affairs at HACC York, marveled at.

“The fact that these students get to engage with local business owners and be the better for it in their work is incredible,” she said.

Guntrum concurred.

“I wish I had an opportunity like this when I was their age,” he said.

Guntrum, who taught at HACC for 15 years, said he’d “put those paintings up against any fine art painting done at a major fine art school.”

All of the students said they have never dined at the restaurant but plan on seeing their pieces inside the restaurant when the finished works are formally hung on April 30 and stay on indefinitely.

"Oh, these are permanent fixtures," Mandy said. "They will be up for a very long time."

Editor's note: This article was updated to correct a line about the inspiration for The Left Bank's new spring menu.

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