Aspen student artists lauded with prestigious regional honors
Winning works to be displayed in Denver starting Monday
For all those months spent in online classes during the pandemic last year, Aspen High School junior Finn Johnson spent a lot of time looking at his bedroom door.
“I thought it would be a good idea to paint the very thing kind of keeping me inside,” Johnson said.
The final piece — a product of five months of mixed-media work titled “Bored of Education,” featuring a painting of Nurse Ratched from the film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” — earned Johnson a regional Gold Key award in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards presented by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers.
Another of Johnson’s submissions, a digital art piece titled “42 Characters by Modak,” earned the silver key award at the culmination of nearly two and a half years of work.
“It is especially kind of rewarding to get recognized for (“42 Characters by Modak”) because so much time went into it, and it’s very much just me as an artist, and whatever comes up in my head,“ Johnson said.
Two other Aspen High School students also earned the silver key honor: senior Mia Iacno for a ceramics piece titled “All Chained Up” and senior Hannah Popish for a comic titled “A Cold Winter.” Three more students earned honorable mentions in the photography category: senior Wilder Rothberg for “A Dock Amongst Water,” senior Maya Shindel for “Humanity” and junior Sonya Tralins for “Daydreaming.”
Shindel, for her part, said she didn’t expect her “Humanity” submission — a compilation of 21 photos of the Aspen community — to win honors among the six pieces she submitted because she hadn’t felt quite satisfied with the digital layout at the time. Still, Shindel said she considers the honor “really cool” because she has long enjoyed creating art and capturing the human expression.
“Photographing people, I feel, is like a very different genre. … It’s someone’s soul, I guess,” Shindel said. “The way that you identify with yourself is the way that you feel like you look — the way you dress, the way you behave, what you enjoy doing.”
All told, a cohort of Aspen High School students submitted 50 entries to the contest, according to art teacher Stephanie Nixon. Most of that work was created last year during the pandemic, which Nixon sees as a testament to the commitment student artists have shown to their work.
“A lot of work wasn’t done in this (art) room, which actually is awesome, because it just validates the fact that they were making work last year, even when we weren’t physically in the room,” Nixon said.
Art teachers at the high school provided students with information about contest criteria, but it was up to the artists to determine what works they submitted, Nixon said. She and fellow art teacher Julie Trahon said they see the awards students earned this year as validation for the artists and a point of pride for the department.
“They work so hard, and not only on improving their skills, but also pushing themselves creatively to find their voice, so we’re just so proud of all the work they’ve created, and so happy that they’re getting recognized for it,” Trahon said.
An exhibition of student work opens Monday and runs through March 29 across several locations in Denver. The Denver Art Museum, History Colorado Center, Chancery Art Space and Edgewater Public Market are all slated to showcase pieces; a full list of which categories are featured at which locations can be found at ColoradoArtAwards.org/2022exhibitions. An online gallery also will be available.
And for Johnson, the Gold Key honor means “Bored of Education” will automatically be considered for national awards, including the Gold Medal, Silver Medal with Distinction and Silver Medal honors as well as scholarship awards. The awards are the nation’s longest-running recognition program for creative teens (awards are open to students in seventh through 12th grade), and alumni include such luminaries as Andy Warhol, Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, Richard Linklater, Joyce Carol Oates and Amanda Gorman.
“It feels amazing,” Johnson said of the award. “It feels great to be recognized kind of at a regional level, and I’m really proud of the work that I submitted, so it’s just a really cool experience to get recognized in that way.”