Local students receive national art awards

April 15, 2014
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Kristen Burns' drawing, "Melodic Escape", won a national Silver Medal in the 2014 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
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Kristen Burns
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Charleroi High School senior Tyler Johnson and her print, “Turns Out To Be The Fox We All Knew,” for which she received a national American Vision Medal

Andy Warhol, iconic pop artist from Pittsburgh, once said of his inspiration source, “security breeds stagnation.”

That quote seems particularly fitting for Kristen Burns, who recently received a national award for her artwork, inspired by an uncomfortable day at the dentist’s office.

Burns, a senior at Canon-McMillan High School, and Tyler Johnson, a senior at Charleroi High School, are two local students whose artwork received national awards in the prestigious Scholastic Art and Writing competition. The two young women join the ranks of Warhol, who received the same award as a high school student in 1945, in addition to well-known names like Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath and Stephen King.

Of the 255,000 art and writing submissions from students in grades 7-12 across the country, only about 1,800 received national distinctions. Burns, 17, received a Silver Medal for her drawing, “Melodic Escape.”

Burns, daughter of Lenka and Mark Burns of Canonsburg, said she was dreading a trip to the dentist last summer for her first tooth filling, but she listened to music to drown out the drilling sound. This form of art therapy inspired her to draw a visual representation of her experience while taking Advanced Placement Studio Art.

“My whole concentration is how the arts help us in everyday life,” said Burns, who plans to study art therapy and psychology at Mercyhurst University.

Burns used charcoal to create an eerie, dark figure engaged in dental work – an experience Burns chose to replicate in art partly because it’s so relatable.

Her art teacher, Kara Stauffer, described Burns as a hard-working and reliable student.

“Her artwork is imaginative and unique, revealing her personal voice,” Stauffer said.

Burns is one of 14 interns at Allegheny Intermediate Unit, where she shadows a variety of art professionals throughout the Pittsburgh region. She said she was “jumping up and down” with excitement when she learned her drawing will be featured in New York City this summer. All national award recipients are invited to attend a “Maker Prom” at the Roosevelt Hotel and awards ceremony at Carnegie Hall.

Like Burns, Johnson, 17, also derived inspiration from music. She received a national American Vision Medal for her print “Turns Out To Be The Fox We All Knew,” named after lyrics from “Run Rabbit Run” by The Hoosiers.

The piece depicts foxes surrounding a rabbit in the woods, and Johnson said the print can take on different meanings depending on the viewer.

Johnson took longer than other students to choose a project idea, but she exploded with creativity once she had the concept down, said Patrick Camut, her art teacher.

“(Students) get under the pressure and just at the last moment, a great idea will come out,” Camut said. “It works well for her.”

Johnson said she was mulling over ideas when she “pictured that song, and the song is pretty much about even though you probably shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, sometimes it’s exactly like the cover.”

Camut said the prints were created by carving into a linoleum block, covering the image with ink “like a giant stamp,” then covering it in paper and running it through a printing press. Since the actual apparatus is expensive, Camut said they used a car jack and stop sign post to create a makeshift printing press.

It was the first print Johnson ever made, leading Camut to describe her as a “natural artist.”

Johnson also won a Gold Key award at the regional level for her sculpture called “The Hunted” depicting a mythical creature. While she doesn’t adhere to a particular style of art, she enjoys creating “fairy tale-esque” pieces.

Johnson, daughter of Cheryle Johnson, of Charleroi, plans to attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania for fine arts and education.

Camut said regardless of whether or not his students win a Scholastic art award, just submitting the pieces to be judged is a meaningful experience.

“It teaches you how to support your fellow artists who have gotten achievements,” Camut said. “It just gives you a meaning to what you’re doing. That’s the only way the arts will survive, if people continue doing it and continue supporting it.”

Emily Petsko joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in June 2013. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor's degree in journalism and global cultural studies.

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