Expressions: Columbus High students discover artistic side

March 26, 2011 8:15:00 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


There was a time, not so long ago, when Hagan Walker didn''t give much thought to his artistic side. Now the 18-year-old is a talented photographer, expressing an emerging vision through intriguing textures, vivid colors and clever digital engineering. 


Only two years ago, Meriweather Bean couldn''t have guessed at the intricate mosaics she would create, revealing innate artistry awaiting an outlet. Franshell Jones certainly never envisioned learning to mat and frame her own paintings.  


Theirs are only three of 18 similar stories the Columbus High School International Baccalaureate art program has witnessed since its implementation in 2009. 


When IB students attend commencement May 21, they will become the first to complete the intense two-year curriculum offered at Columbus High, one of only four IB schools in the state of Mississippi. The demanding course of study requires disciplined self-starters. 


"They take on the challenge in their 11th-grade year. They take only IB classes, which are more rigorous," said art instructor Sarah Oswalt, who has worked with these teens throughout their two-year tenure. 


By state IB standards, Visual Arts is an important component for each student. Instead of being an elective, art is equivalent to any other IB academic course, such as math, and counts equally toward grade point average, Oswalt explained. 


The initiative, resourcefulness and originality required of the IB course will help each student as they move on to college. Lessons learned, from problem-solving to time management, are invaluable. 


"They really have to be compleaters," Oswalt stressed. "Their balancing act has been great. And it really taps into their creative thinking and skills." 






Visual Arts students are allowed to choose their mediums. For one inspired project photographer Hagan Walker and mosaics enthusiast Meriweather Bean decided to meld their talents. Hagan, the son of Jim and Leigh Walker, and Meriweather, the daughter of Mark and Suzanne Bean, got permission to photograph Main Street from atop the BancorpSouth Building in downtown Columbus. After having the image greatly enlarged, they developed a system for cutting it into 3,600 pieces that were individually attached to 1-inch-by-1-inch tiles, which were reconstructed into a sweeping image. Clear glaze and, finally, grout, were painstakingly applied. 


How long did it take?  


"Forever," they laugh. But, in actuality, about four months. And the result is a piece they will proudly exhibit at the Columbus Arts Council''s Rosenzweig Arts Center for an IB examiner this week, and for the public throughout the month of April. An opening reception for the public is set for Thursday, April 7, from 5:30-7 p.m.  


Arts council gallery committee member Melody Vydas remarked, "I''m delighted to be part of a group in our community who values and encourages upcoming new artists. All of us at the CAC are thrilled at the chance to offer these artists a venue to showcase their work." 




Behind the scenes 


Work has been underway at an intense pace in the spacious high school art room, as IB students prepare for the all-important exhibit, which will, in essence, be their final art exam. Each senior has selected 10 or more pieces to represent his body of work. Each will undergo an approximate half-hour one-on-one interview with the outside examiner one day this week. 


Franshell Jones carefully measured a colorful still life Tuesday, quietly calculating the size mat she will need to cut. 


"They are responsible for matting, framing, hanging and showing their pieces," Oswalt pointed out. "They''re getting a real taste of what it''s like to be a working artist." 


Franshell is looking into architecture school and expects her Visual Arts class to aid her, if that proves to be her final choice. 


"I''ve really grown. It''s given me a chance to challenge myself, to expect the unexpected," she said. "And my drawing has definitely improved." 


IB senior Lauren David, the daughter of Chris and Jennifer David, has discovered what she believes may be a career inspiration. 


"I''ve always been interested in nursing and helping people. Through this class, I discovered I really, really like art and wondered how in the world I could combine the two interests. It really intrigued me to see that the University of Alabama has an art therapy major," said Lauren, who is investigating the program. For her, like her classmates, the year-end brings its share of pressure as high school draws to an end and thoughts frequently turn to the future.  


Columbus Municipal School District Superintendent Dr. Del Phillips remarked, "This is an exciting time for Columbus High School and the IB Visual Arts students. I congratulate Mrs. Oswalt and the IB artists for creating such individual, vibrant, and thought-provoking portfolios. Their high-quality artwork showcases a range of ideas and reflects their progression during this two-year artistic journey." 


For the graduating IB seniors, the pomp and circumstance of late May will mark a trailblazing moment. They will always be Columbus'' first IB class. 


"They''ve all worked extremely hard, and just going through the program is something to be very proud of," Oswalt praised. The journey -- artistic and otherwise -- is far, far from over.

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.