Monday, June 26, 2000

Art students honored as top sculptors

By Kevin Z. Smith
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Northwest High School students (from left) Samantha Meister, Tess Campbell, Doug Teague, Josh Korra and James Johnson sit in front of art teacher Mary Beth Martin.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
        Northwest High School sophomore Tess Campbell's art project almost ended up in a friend's room.

        Instead, the meticulously beaded Coca-Cola can is an objet d'art displayed — with those of five classmates — at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

        Their work began as an assignment in Mary Beth Martin's Art II class in August.

        Last week in Washington, D.C., the project ended when the six students were named the nation's top high school sculptors in the annual Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.

        No one admitted thinking their elaborately beaded pic nic ensemble, complete with pizza, fruit, napkins, a butterfly and Coke can, would make it beyond regional competition.

        “This whole thing has been very exciting and surprising,” Tess said. “We started out doing this just as a class project and we thought we'd be taking them home, like all the rest of our work. We never thought it would end up in a museum, or that we'd be considered the best sculptors.”

        No art or writing student in the region has reached the pinnacle in the past 10 years, according to the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, Inc., sponsors of the national contest.

        Earlier records were not available but Miss Martin has been teaching art for nearly 30 years and she could not recall anyone receiving a Pinnacle Award.

        Each year nearly 200,000 students compete and 16,000 won gold regional awards and an invitation to national competition.

        There, 762 won national gold medals, of them, 27 were judged as the best, winning Pinnacle awards.

        “This piece has such great innovative spirit,” B.J. Adler, executive director of the alliance, said of the Northwest High entry. “It is a 3-D piece and it captures a piece of Americana, the family picnic, and I think what captivated the judges was its incredible personal style, vibrancy and spirit, and that it was a collaborative effort, bringing the works of so many to the project.”

        Mrs. Martin said her 40 Art II students each were asked to create an item for the basket. She selected the best, about 16 pieces, and asked students if they wanted to submit them to the regional Scholastic contest to compete with entries from southwest and central Ohio, northern Kentucky and southeast Indiana.

        Six students accepted the offer — James Johnson, 17; Doug Teague and Josh Korra, both 16; Jackie Keyes and Samantha Meister, both 15; and Tess Campbell, 16. Each will receive $400.

        James and Doug created their pepperoni and cheese pizza using cardboard. Samantha turned a tennis ball into a sliced orange. Jackie made the napkin and a lime slice. Josh created a butterfly.

        Mrs. Martin said the decision to enter the Scholastic regional contest came after students and visitors remarked on the can's beauty and uniqueness while it was displayed in the school lob by.

        “The students received so many compliments, and we had people contact us about buying the pieces. I figured if it got that much attention, it might be worth entering,” Mrs. Martin said.

        The idea to use beading was inspired by contemporary artist Liza Lou, who beads large objects, including entire kitchens. Her work was displayed at Cincinnati's Contemporary Art Center last year.

        That exhibit left in September before Mrs. Martin's class saw it, so she bought and showed a video of the artist's work. Students accepted the challenge to bead picnic items.

        “I wanted to use her because it's important, I think, that art students appreciate the work of people closer to their age and not always studying and trying to copy the old masters,” Mrs. Martin said.

        Beading took about six weeks and Mrs. Martin contributed her family picnic basket to hold the objects.

        “I might have been the last one to get mine in,” Josh said of his butterfly. “Toward the end, I just wanted to get it done and never thought it would be put in a contest.”

        Mrs. Martin praised the winning students for their talents and willingness to take a risk.

        “I can say that these students might not be the most inspired or the most dedicated to art, but they are very hard workers and I think this is an example to show them the things they can do if they apply themselves, to understand their potential,” Mrs. Martin said.

        The art will be on display at Corcoran through the summer.


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