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Story: Student Art at the Capitol

For a month each year, in January and February, Georgia’s Capitol Hill is flooded with art.

The annual Capitol Art Exhibit, sponsored by the Georgia Art Education Association (GAEA), brings a display of student works to the Capitol each year. It’s all displayed in a building that many state agencies, including the GaDOE, call home. So every year, for a month, visitors and state employees get to pass through rows of molded sculptures and careful lines and explosions of colorful paint.

The students range from elementary to high school, sculptors to sketch artists, aspiring art students to spare-time crafters. There’s Stilson Elementary fourth-grader Colby Buchan, whose deer skull drawing was inspired by a combo of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings and hunting trips with dad. There’s Level Creek Elementary kindergartener Camden Cook, who created a construction-paper house, and Union Grove High senior Neil Hancock, who drew intricate orchids in prismacolor pencil.

Every work joined a rich tradition – the Capitol Art Exhibit dates back to the early 80s. It shines a bright spotlight on art education in the state – sharing “with our legislators and the public the exceptional, creative ability of Georgia’s students,” according to GAEA.

State School Superintendent Richard Woods spoke at the reception honoring the students whose work was displayed, and said the event was a perfect example of the value on the arts in education.

“This is why I am an advocate for art education, and why my administration is prioritizing the arts,” Superintendent Woods said. “Integrating arts instruction into the curriculum engages students; it helps us to meet them at their level, to meet them where they learn.”

The exhibit has never been a competition, organizers say – it’s a showcase. And it comes with a unique twist: each student who enters is required to write to their state legislative representatives, which serves as a form of art advocacy and a lesson for students on the democratic process.

“It can be a real confidence booster for some students and is a source of pride for all who have work selected to be in the show,” Union Grove High art club sponsor Kirby Meng said. “It also helps them with reaching out to adults, pushing themselves a bit…I think it has meant a great deal to my students through the years.”

That experience was meaningful for this year’s student participants, too.

“One of them sent me a congratulations card in the mail signed by him and his family,” third-grader Dottie McDaniel said. “It made me feel important. I was happy that they were able to attend the exhibit and see my work.”

And for many, the creative experience itself was deeply valuable.

“Art is the class that I most look forward to each day,” said North Gwinnett High senior Alexandra Sorto. “To be exhibited just validates my love for this subject.”


Meet the Students

We thought it would be fun to get to know the student participants a little better, so we sent an email out to art teachers and asked them to “interview” their students. Here are the responses we received.

Raegan Owen, 8th grade, General Ray Davis Middle School

Teacher: Katy King

Piece entered: Baby turtle drawn with charcoal pencil

After high-school graduation, Raegan wants to: Go to college

What she says: “I drew [the turtle] because at the time I really wanted to go to the beach, and when I am at the beach I always hope to see a sea turtle. The process of creating it was very time consuming. But in the end, it was all worth it.”

Sophie Mosley, 8th grade, General Ray Davis Middle School

Teacher: Katy King

Piece entered: Elephant

After high school graduation, Sophie wants to: Attend Brown University and major in Visual Arts, as well as minoring in the Literary Arts

What she says: “You can never stop learning. Some people are result-oriented types of people and others, like myself, are process-oriented people. I love to think that there are always ways for me to improve.”

Alexandra Sorto, 11th grade, North Gwinnett High School

Teacher: Debi West

Piece entered: “Future Visions”

After high school graduation, Alexandra would like to: Pursue the fine arts – possibly art education

What she says: “[My piece] was from a great lesson called ‘Pinspirations’…we were supposed to find four pins on Pinterest that interested us and then create a self-portrait using those four images as inspiration. We could do it in any size and use any media. I loved the freedom and had a great time layering my acrylics to create this piece.”

Camden Cook, kindergarten, Level Creek Elementary

Teacher: Amber Arnold

Piece entered: Construction paper house

After high school graduation, Camden would like to: Go to college and then be a police officer or astronaut

What he says: “I felt special because I was one of the only kids in my school to get picked. It was fun seeing all the other kids’ art.”

Hannah Marston, 8th grade, Harris County Carver Middle School

Teacher: Gina Fulcher

Piece entered: Reverse-shaded chalk drawing of Justin Bieber (“not ashamed!” she told us in our Q&A)

After high school graduation, Hannah would like to: Go to UGA

What she says: “It was a lot of fun going up to the Capitol because only two people got to go. It is a huge honor because we met Rep. John Pezold! It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience (unless you are a good artist).”

Cameron Pearce, 8th grade, Harris County Carver Middle School

Teacher: Gina Fulcher

Piece entered: A turtle painting

After high school graduation, Cameron would like to: Go to college

What he says: “I chose a turtle because I love how awesome and detailed they are. While I was painting with the tempera paints, I kept getting the wrong shades. When I was doing the details on the fins, I did the sports first, then the skin, so I had to go back over the spots…I worked backwards.”

Laura Foxworth, 11th grade, Union Grove High School

Teacher: Kirby Meng

Piece entered: Rabbit scratchboard

After high school graduation, Laura would like to: Study either animation or illustration in college

What she says: “I’ve always enjoyed drawing animals, because the detail required is quite fun to render with a furry animal like a rabbit. You need to use lots of small lines to accurately capture all of the strands of hair.”

Neil Hancock, 12th grade, Union Grove High School

Teacher: Kirby Meng

Piece entered: Prismacolor drawing of orchids

After high school graduation, Neil plans to: Study art at the Lamar Dodd School of Art at UGA

What he says: “Drawing with prismacolor allowed me to capture very fine details, while simultaneously being able to mix and layer colors.”

Colby Buchan, 4th grade, Stilson Elementary School

Teacher: Nancy Miller

Piece entered: Deer skull

After high school graduation, Colby would like to: Go to college. He’s interested in architecture, science, and everything about history, world and U.S. – especially things having to do with the military. He loves computers, and especially anything to do with gaming, so he may want to become a video game creator.

What he says: “Hunting with my dad, and also Georgia O’Keeffe, inspired me about my project. We have a whitetail buck deer skull European mount on our back porch, and it also inspired me. It was difficult and simple, all at the same time, to create my project.”

Owen Anderson, 3rd grade, Vidalia Heritage Academy/Art by Gwen Studio

Teacher: Gwendolyn Davis

Piece entered: 3 Monsters

After high school graduation, Owen would like to: Go to college

What he says: “I was looking in a fantasy book and I saw an eel and I thought it would be cool to make something like that, but a little different. It turned out like a giant sea monster.”

 Dottie McDaniel, 3rd grade, Sally D. Meadows Elementary School/Art by Gwen Studio

Piece entered: Mermaid, Sorcerer, Fairy

Teacher: Gwendolyn Davis

After high school graduation, Dottie would like to: Go to college and study to become a marine veterinarian

What she says: “[My piece] was a fantasy piece with a mermaid, sorcerer, and a fairy. It was inspired by a book and by my love of magical characters. I used markers to make the basic picture and then cut out colored duct tape to make the details.”

Lordea Childress, 12th grade, Tri Cities High School

Teacher: Sahirah Bussey

Piece entered: “Somewhere in God’s Mind…”

After high school graduation, Lordea would like to: Attend college for fine arts and graphic design to prepare for her career in art

What she says: “The inspiration for this artwork was the thought of how each culture around the world can actually be the makeup of a single person. Even if one doesn’t directly descend from a particular racial/cultural group, they were still impacted by them all, and so they are a part of this person. That person is me.”

Melissa Mims, 12th grade, Tri Cities High School

Teacher: Sahirah Bussey

Piece entered: Untitled self-portrait

After high school graduation, Melissa would like to: Become a world-renowned animator/director/artist

What she says: “[My piece] is supposed to be me as an entirety. I utilized perspective to explore foreshortening.”

Savannah Von Allgeier, 7th grade, Sweetwater Middle School

Teacher: Brittany Brinson

Piece entered: Self-portrait in oil pastel

After high school graduation, Savannah would like to: Do something involving animals or graphic design

What she says: “The process of creating [my piece] was fun, yet quite difficult. It took me a while to do the eyes, the mouth, and the hair, but, other than that, it was pretty easy and I enjoyed drawing and coloring it.”