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Student Cover Art Contest Winners 2010

FRESH IMAGES

The East Bay Monthly’s 10th annual Student Cover Art Contest celebrates the work of young artists in grades six to 12 and their teachers in public and private schools throughout the East Bay. The 2010 winner is Piedmont’s Katie McKeen, who combines images of Carmel, Yosemite, and Utah in her mixed media piece, “Trail Mix.”

Humans have been making art for centuries, not just in studios, but on cave walls, in the sand, on pots and bowls, even in the subtle line of a chair leg. These days, though, the pursuit is relegated almost entirely to professionals or the fingerpaint set—once kids leave elementary school, the rotating gallery on the fridge goes out of business. Thank heavens, then, for dedicated instructors like Helen Brainerd, who retired in June after more than a quarter century of teaching art to students at Piedmont High School. All three of this year’s winners hail from Brainerd’s classroom at Piedmont High, a creative environment where their talents were neither babied nor stifled, but simply, wonderfully, nurtured.

For a decade, entries by Brainerd’s pupils have dominated The Monthly’s annual Student Cover Art Contest. Many of her students—some who never considered such an option before encountering Brainerd—have gone on to careers as professional artists. And, Brainerd says, “I like to think I built the art program [at Piedmont High]”—while the school once offered only two or three art classes to its teens, students can now choose among several two- and three-dimensional options.

“My father said to me, a thousand years ago, ‘You need as a woman to have something you can do to support yourself,’” says Brainerd, who grew up in Visalia. “I hadn’t really thought about that before.” His words sparked her decision to study teaching at Mills College, followed by graduate work at Cal. New teaching credential in hand, she landed a job at Piedmont High in 1965, but took a break six years later to raise a family. A 19-year break, actually, followed by a second, two-decade stint at the school. “That’s why I’m so old,” Brainerd jokes.

Brainerd says she “will miss seeing the transformations, the pride, the aha moment when a kid does something they didn’t think they could do.” Frankly, she admits, she didn’t mind that teaching delayed her ability to pursue a personal passion for oil painting. Guiding “hundreds of other hands, that was the most fun thing for me,” she says. “And I love teenagers.” But now she’s looking forward to “cleaning out my garage and making a studio,” where she’ll focus on “working in layers,” which she favors over content-based pieces. “I like distressed wood,” she says. “I like peeling walls.” She also likes her grandchildren, whom she’ll now be able to dote on at leisure.

But the welfare of the young creators at Piedmont High will always be a matter of personal interest. “The students today have so much pressure,” Brainerd says, noting that the stakes have gotten higher over the years. “Everyone has to take 50,000 AP courses and excel at everything and do a sport. The art program is a place for kids to have a different kind of experience that touches on their creative side. And that’s really important.”


FIRST PLACE
Katie McKeen
Piedmont High School
Trailmix
(mixed media)
Katie McKeen loves water and the outdoor life. So last spring, when she received an art class assignment to “combine pictures of places that are important to you,” it was a cinch that she wasn’t going to be sketching skyscrapers. Instead, McKeen, who is a Piedmont High senior this year, brought together images of the beach in Carmel, which she visits frequently, Zion National Park in Utah, and what she describes as “the waterfall in Yosemite” in the puckishly titled “Trailmix.” Mostly, she relied on colored pencil—her favorite medium—to create the prize-winning drawing, but also employed chalk and oil pastel.
“I’m really surprised!” was McKeen’s first reaction on being informed that she’d placed first in The Monthly’s Student Cover Art Contest this year. “I think of myself as an athlete more than an artist!” A modern multitasker, McKeen juggles school with sports and running; on weekend mornings, she gets up early to row with the Oakland Strokes. Still, though, she made sure this year to sign up for AP Art.
McKeen, who has two brothers—an 11-year-old, and a twin who “is into computer science, not art”—plans to pursue a career as a lawyer or a writer. But, she says, “Art is important in the world. And it’s been an indispensable part of high school.”
Contemplating her first-place win, she offers a shout-out to Promote Arts in the Schools (PAINTS), a parent organization that provides pragmatic support to visual arts programs in the Piedmont school district. And, like many, many other young people whose passion for painting or drawing blossomed at Piedmont High, she sends a heartfelt thank you to retiring teacher and mentor Helen Brainerd.

SECOND PLACE
Ted Shryock
Piedmont High School
Untitled
(acrylic)
While visiting his grandmother in Sonora last year, Ted Shryock realized he wanted to paint his younger sister, who appears in his second place–winning acrylic as a calm figure lost in contemplation next to a fallen tree. Shryock, who graduated from Piedmont High School in June, combines his love of nature and Impressionist paintings in his light-splashed portrayal of a quiet moment in the woods.
“My sister definitely inspired me, too. We’ve always been close but I was seeing her as more her own person,” says Shryock, who began college at San Francisco State last month.
Shryock took up art in earnest as a freshman in Helen Brainerd’s class, where he says she encouraged him to experiment in varied media. For the painting of his sister, he says, “She pushed me to let go and do whatever I wanted to, whatever I felt, and not worry about it so much.”
Recently, Shryock has been making abstract, colorful collages. Thanks to Brainerd’s class, art will always be a part of his life, he says.

THIRD PLACE
Forrest Yeh
Piedmont High School
Into the Deep
(watercolor and pen and ink)
Sixteen-year-old Forrest Yeh wasn’t happy with the original version of his third prize–winning underwater landscape. “It wasn’t that precise,” he explains. “So I just changed it by adding some crazy little pen-and-ink sea creatures and some random Chinese characters.”
Yeh credits his uncle, Ray Yeh—an “amazing” artist and the owner of The Uptown club in Oakland—as “a big inspiration.” As the Piedmont High junior describes an ink drawing that Uncle Ray created using live ants and a canvas bordered by Raid, it’s clear that a creative streak (make that a full-fledged swath) runs in the family. But Yeh credits art teacher Helen Brainerd with introducing him to watercolor, which has become his favorite medium. In addition to completing school assignments, Yeh paints recreationally, often with the idea of making a customized gift for a friend or family member. (One buddy got a painting of a “weird” gate latch that had personal significance; Yeh’s dad, a medical doctor with an eye for interesting machinery, received a painting of the inner workings of an elevator.) He’s also grateful for the “gallery reports” that Brainerd assigned, leading him to venues as far-flung as First Friday events in Oakland (“you can see all the galleries there”) and the more staid DeYoung museum in San Francisco.
Art isn’t the only thing that Yeh creates. He’s deep into the realm of robotics competitions, and one of his star creations, the 30-pound “Bully,” is ranked as second to only one other combat robot in the nation. Then there’s the hat-and-glasses contraption he invented to trick the brain into seeing the world upside down. (“You can’t read or drive for a good eight days after using it,” he cautions.) And, for good measure, he plays didgeridoo, guitar, and mandolin; also, he’s a pole-vaulter.
With two years of high school still to complete, Yeh is in no rush to decide on a college major. But, he says, his life goal is to be an inventor with a lot of garage space—and to make a lot of money. That way, he says, “I can just do everything I want to do in my garage.”

 

 

 

 

Helen Brainerd
Helen Brainerd. Photo by Abby Pollak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIRST PLACE
Katie McKeen
Piedmont High School
Trailmix (mixed media)

 

 

 

 

 

SECOND PLACE
Ted Shryock
Piedmont High School
Untitled (acrylic)

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIRD PLACE
Forrest Yeh
Piedmont High School
Into the Deep
(watercolor and pen and ink)

 

 

 

 


 

 


 

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