From left, Starkville High School art students George Bennett, Maggie George, Bailey Brocato, Madison Morgan and Seoin Jeong won gold keys at the Scholastic Art regional competition. Photo by: Hillary Eddlemon/Dispatch Correspondent
February 3, 2012 11:18:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Upon arriving at the campus of Starkville High School, one thing leaps out to a first-time visitor -- between the school and the football field stands an old, white, worn house.
"The white house," as it's known to students and faculty, serves as a haven and classroom to the art students of Andrew Lark.
Lark's voice is audible as soon as you step over the threshold. He is surrounded by several pupils, all busy with school work and lively chatter. One step inside the house reveals extraordinary work by his proteges.
George Bennett, Maggie George, Bailey Brocato, Seoin Jeong and Madison Morgan are just a small part of a large pool of regional winners from Starkville High in the Scholastic Art Competition, held at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson. Together, five students managed to bring home eight gold keys and four silver keys, the highest and second-highest honors of the competition, respectively. Those who earned gold keys will move on to the National Competition, where they will compete for a chance to participate in a ceremony at Carnegie Hall and have their work displayed in a gallery in New York City.
Seniors Bennett and Maggie George are no strangers to victory, as they've both won awards at the national level years prior. But previous experience doesn't dampen the thrill of winning at the regional level this time around.
Bennett, who won two gold keys for his senior art portfolio and for a drawing titled "Savannah Rose," seemed just as thrilled as if he had just learned the outcome of the competition.
"As an artist, it made me happy that people were able to see what I saw, a tough man, but gentle," said Bennett, referencing the subject of the piece, -- a man he met in Georgia who fashions roses out of palm leaves. "I was ecstatic."
George also won a gold key for her photography portfolio.
George and Bennett have learned a wealth of technique and discipline from Lark, who has taught at the school since the '90s. But they agree the most important lesson learned has been humility.
"Mr. Lark's class is like training for the military," George said. "If you don't listen to your captain, you're going to get shot. Do not question anything he says, and you will surprise yourself with what you can do."
Senior Bailey Brocato, who won a silver key for her underwater photograph titled "Dante's Inferno," said courage, especially after her first year in Lark's program, helped her find her niche.
"Well, I took Art I my freshman year, and it was a total bust," Brocato recalled. "It was awful. The next year, I took photography and found my passion. Mr. Lark expects you to go beyond just what is expected. You have to be confident and not be afraid to fail. You're going to fail a lot.
"I've learned that a lot of people can't deal with that, but you have to learn to deal with it in here."
First-time competitors Jeong and Morgan brought home four and one gold keys, respectively.
Morgan, who won a gold key for her photograph of a cow in a mist titled "Life in Mississippi," said she was shocked to win gold.
"I've always liked art, but this was my first competition, and I didn't know what to expect," said Morgan. "I was shocked."
Jeong was equally surprised at learning of her success in the fashion portfolio division.
"I thought I lacked skills and creativity because I had never done this before," Jeong said. "There were two pieces that I wasn't very confident in, but Mr. Lark insisted I submit them. I was scared. But, if you really do try and follow Mr. Lark's instructions, I've learned anything can happen."
Lark discovered his own gift for creativity in kindergarten and has been sharing his love for art ever since.
Lark, who has been teaching art students for the past 15 years in Starkville, is reluctant to take credit for his students' success.
He said his seniors typically earn more than $200,000 in art scholarships each year.
"I'm just a simple man," Lark said. "I've been blessed with a gift and try to pass on the foundation (of art) to these kids. A good foundation is everything. It's what brings success in life. You won't come in here and be able to paint like Leonardo within a week, or even a year; you have to push yourself.
"Too many times, I've seen young people fall victim to poor self esteem," Lark added. "I believe, if you give a kid an option of failure, he will almost always choose it. My job is to keep it real with these kids, and their job is to push themselves. Everything else will just fall into place."
With more than 30 pieces of artwork selected from Starkville High to be displayed in the upcoming exhibition at the Mississippi Museum of Art, Lark's students are convinced he knows what he's talking about.
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