Zoey Pierce and teacher Rebecca Osborne
Text and photos by Steev Riccardo
While visiting the Bartlett High School Art department recently and interviewing some its bright, rising students, I heard some exciting news from department head Sean Harrington.
The Art Department has just received a $10,000 grant from the Janet Malser Humanities Trust, the second year in a row that they had received funding from the community trust fund.
Harrington was rightfully excited as this money would be used “to continue improving and expanding” the school’s digital media class. “We are really excited that we will have more equipment to help enhance our art program and prepare our kids for the real world.”
In his twenty-first year with the department, Harrington, who is from Coventry, Rhode Island and attended Rhode Island College for both his Masters Degree in teaching and a degree in sculpture, has seen plenty of changes over the years.
Since joining the department in 1991, he has started a ceramics program and most recently opened the school’s media arts lab.
Harrington could “see that this was the way it was going,” but the department “lacked the technology element in their program.” He heard about The Janet Malser Humanities Trust and “thought that this was a great opportunity for us and what we could benefit the most with was computers and digital cameras which seemed to be the thing that would really spark an interest with students and keep this department growing.”
Sean Harrington (center) and art students.
It turned out to be a good call. The department got its equipment and while Harrington still stresses “the fundamentals of art making and design,” they have moved forward into a new era of technology—but at the same time remain traditionalists in their teaching approach.”
The school’s art teacher, Rebecca Osborne, who is from Spencer and went to David Prouty High School, teaches Introduction to 2D Art, Drawing, and Painting. A graduate of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, with a teaching degree from Framingham State and a Masters Degree from UMass Amherst, she is in her fourth year at the high school.
Osborne, who teaches about 70-80 students—and also an artist herself—complements Harrington, who teaches introduction to 3D, Sculpting, Ceramics and Digital Media Arts; the two have a very good working relationship. “We are very supportive of each other but able to critique each other’s practices in a meaningful way.”
“I enjoy it (art) and I think it’s important for students to see their teacher is actually working as an artist. Some of the students, when they first come in, ask you if you can draw and if you are good at art. They don’t assume that you have your own set of skills; they assume that you are just there telling them what to do, so I think its important to show them that you are capable as an artist and that you do know what you are doing and that you are able to teach them effectively and guide them,” said Osborne.
“I’m into ceramics, which is interesting, since I don’t teach that here. But I think it really allows me to focus on my teaching and not let it get intertwined with what I do outside of school so I don’t burn out from one thing or the other.”
Osborne works at home in her studio with clay and attends craft fairs and art shows on weekends where she sets up a tent and sells artwork along with other artists at area festivals “everywhere from Hartford to Boston and New York City.”
The diversity of Harrington and Osborne is evidenced in the interesting art you see coming from their students.
One of the school’s rising art stars is junior Tiffany Barber, who has taken a real liking to ceramics and sculpting and has a bright future in Art.
“Ever since I was little I have been drawing and coloring, and I got really good at it and people started noticing it and I realized that I had a talent,” said Barber.
“When I was a freshman I took an art class and I felt like it was going slow. I felt ahead of the class and I wanted to do something more and different, and ceramics was different. It was using your hands more and creating something out of nothing. That’s kind if what drawing is but you see something in your mind. With clay you have to really sculpt it and put everything together and it’s harder. I wasn’t good at it at first, but now I think I am good. I create a lot of things that people like.”
“Tiffany is really talented and making some very interesting sculptural forms mostly,” said Harrington. “She has created some really amazing things. She has worked really hard and is independent and enjoys coming here.”
“Mr. Harrington is a really good artist and he has showed me how to perfect my skills. He is a really good teacher, he really helps you,” said the junior who hopes to attend art school following her senior year.
“People always want to go into what they like best, Art is the one thing I am really good at. I tried sports, I tried cheerleading, and I liked it but I wasn’t 100% into it all times. With Art I am 100% into it”.
She knows it is going to take a lot more hard work and commitment to get to the next level. “To get into Art school you have to create a portfolio. They want drawings, pictures of your art, you have to be a little bit of everything.”
Junior Mina Zaky is the opposite of Barber in many ways. He doesn’t draw or paint or sculpt but has an eye with a camera and computers that has allowed him to excel in the media arts classes.
“We handpicked students for the media arts class,” said Harrington. “I went around to study halls and asked kids if they wanted to be part of it, and at first I don’t think he (Zaky) wanted to—but then he thought about it and decided he would try the class out. He’s been doing very well.”
Harrington knew that kids are really good with computers and trying to figure things out. “I am a traditional artist, so I am at the same level as they are now with computers. It’s a great tool to learn about art with, but you still have to be creative and use the tool and not just let it become a shiny object.”
Zaky had not done anything with photography at all before the chance meeting with Harrington but has become one of the class’s prize students. “I didn’t know we had a digital arts class, and I needed to fill in a class and Mr. Harrington was in there and he was just starting it. I was the first student in there, so I said that I would try it. I wasn’t very artistic, so working with photos instead of drawing was better for me. Photography really is the best art for me.”
“Its definitely something I might want to look into as far as my career path goes”, said Zaky, who has excellent grades in school and also was named co-captain of the school’s football team next season, “I could see myself using this stuff in the future, the photo stuff is pretty cool. It would be a cool job to take pictures of the NFL someday.”
While Barber is creating with ceramics and Zaky is pondering shooting pro football players, junior Zooey Pierce is sketching in line with traditional painters.
“When I started doing art, I felt a connection” said Pierce, who wants to be a paramedic but also hopes to continue making art.
Pierce, who also sketches a lot outside of school, is a big fan of photographer Nan Golden. “She captures emotions in every picture and it displays different emotions so its not the same emotion repeating.”
The thing that really makes it click for Pierce while she is in art class is the communication and the critique that she gets from not only her teacher but also her peers, which gives her a lot of motivation to create.
“Mrs. Osborne pushes me. When it’s good, she wants me to make it better,” said Pierce. “There are a lot of people here that help each other.” One of is her best friend, Andrea Frenniere. “We paint each other a lot and that really helps.”
The Bartlett Art department is thriving, and with help from the community it will continue to expand and grow and keep the arts alive.