Charleroi Area's artists, writers excel on national, regional levels
The list of people who have won Scholastic Awards for Art & Writing is notable: actors Alan Arkin, Robert Redford and John Lithgow and writers Sylvia Plath and Truman Capote.
Pittsburgh native Andy Warhol also distinguished himself.
Now, Charleroi Area High School senior Tyler Johnson, 17, has joined that esteemed group of award winners.
Johnson won the American Vision Medal at the national level for her print “Turns Out To Be The Fox We All Knew.”
She created the work by carving images into a linoleum block, covering it with ink and pressing paper against it.
She will receive the award June 6 at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
“It's a line from a song that I really like,” Johnson said of the inspiration for her work. “It's a bunch of foxes surrounding a rabbit in the woods. It turned out how I expected it to. You look at it and automatically think of a story behind it, whether it was the same story as mine or not.”
Johnson is happy with her work, but admitted the process was tedious – both for her and high school art teacher Patrick Camut.
“I had the hardest time thinking of an idea for this one,” Johnson said. “I must have sat there for a week just thinking about what I was going to do. Everyone else had started on theirs.”
Camut chuckled as Johnson spoke of her thought process.
“As a teacher, it's a little nerve-racking,” Camut said. “You know that she's trying and not giving up; you know it's in there. ... Tyler explodes under pressure, though. As she gets closer to the deadline, it's like a crack of creativity opens up and this idea just pops out.”
Completing the print ahead of the deadline challenged both teacher and student.
“We actually entered it the night before the deadline,” Camut said. “We were here at midnight, and my dad was framing it. The janitor had to actually let us out of the school.”
Johnson said that once the idea for the print came to her, she was relieved.
“I wasn't stressed out while I was doing it,” she said. “I wasn't worried about how it would turn out. I didn't expect to enter it when I was making it. I didn't make it to enter it in the competition.”
Camut, though, thought differently about her work.
“I felt it was a strong print while she was making it,” said Camut, a first-year teacher in the district. “It has beautiful line work.
“What it comes down to is that you don't want any student's work not to get judged. You never know what a judge is going to be thinking or looking for in a work.”
Johnson, who has been accepted into the fine arts program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, said she was shocked to learn she won the national award.
“This is the first print I ever made,” she said. “I never thought I'd win at the regional level or the national level.
“Don't judge a book by its cover; that's the theme of the print.”
If Johnson wasn't sure her work was good enough, judges apparently were.
Johnson also won the Gold Key award at the regional level for her sculpture, “The Haunted,” and was accorded Special Merit for her portfolio.
Johnson wasn't the only Charleroi Area student who submitted work for judging at the national level of the Scholastic Awards.
Lyssa Current, a junior, submitted three works.
Current was an American Vision nominee for her sculpture “Departure,” and received Regional Gold Keys for her fashion piece, “Razzmatazz,” and her print, “Fields of Heather.”
She received a Regional Silver Key for her jewelry piece and was accorded Special Merit for her watercolor.
“Departure” is a seven-foot, 110-pound sculpture cast that features the head of her father, Mark Current, and the body of her boyfriend, John Paul Aquino.
“Basically, the candles are inside the body, which is melting,” Current said. “It's suspended in the air. It's up to the viewer to decide if it is something good that is departing the body, or if it is something bad, or if the body is being freed of pain.”
The large piece is on display at the Artbeat Gallery in Waynesburg.
“Razzmatazz” was a tedious-but-creative piece for which she gladly accepted numerous donations.
“It's 2,000 crayon wrappers woven together,” she said with a laugh. “The buttons were made of melted wax. I had a lot of friends, classmates and the elementary school teachers donated their crayons.”
The watercolor – “Roadkill” – featured a female human body with a deer skull set in a forest scene.
When it came to the task of making something beautiful out of something that many view as ugly, Current created her jewelry piece.
“I took stinkbugs and moths and casted them in resin,” Current.
“Fields of Heather” portrays a female face wearing a flowery headpiece intertwined in her large hair.
“Lyssa can plan and work in chunks,” Camut said. “She has such a creative mind. As a teacher, you have to support what ideas your students have.
“Only students that are passionate about art can handle all that. She's a special student. You have a select few like Lyssa and Tyler that come through your classes and have a dying passion for art.
“I can give them every single skill that I've learned going through art school to help them succeed, which helps breed different generations of artists.”
Looking to the future, Current said she is considering the Maryland Institute College of Art at Temple University or the Rhode Island School of Design.
Two creative writers had works judged on the national level.
Senior Emily Mills won the American Voice award at the regional level for her memoir, “An Analysis from the Aftermath of Adolescence.”
She worked under the tutelage of English teacher Krista Randolph.
Senior Emily Black received a Regional American Voice award for her memoir, “Gradually, Then Suddenly,” which she said focused on life and how it is affected by divorce.
“It's about how tough it can be,” Black said. “But I ended it with a lot of hope. I didn't expect to win. I was working on it right up to the deadline, and this was my first year entering.”
English teacher Denise Gross spoke highly of Black.
“I had her for creative writing and noticed that she has the ability to see the world and really relate,” Gross said. “She writes in a raw, passionate way.”
Gross said Black excels through writing.
“She justifies what I do every day,” Gross said. “She really uses her creative outlet. I'm really proud of her.”
Black said she had planned to pursue a career in social work, but that might change.
She is now considering studies in another art form – through the photojournalism program at Point Park University.
The Scholastic Awards regional competition took place Feb. 9 at California University of Pennsylvania.
Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2667