This year, more than 1,700 students received national recognition in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the nation’s longest running scholarship and awards program for creative teens. Among them, 16 high school seniors received the program’s highest honor: the Gold Medal Portfolio, which includes a $10,000 scholarship. Each week, we’ll highlight two of these students, one artist and one writer, to learn a little more about them, their craft, and their award-winning portfolios.
This week, we’d like to introduce you to Amellia Hausmann from Germantown, TN and Keerthi Lakshmanan from San Jose, CA. Amellia’s art portfolio, Sun Dried is comprised of a series of bright watercolor paintings that focus on the way light hits fabric. Keerthi’s writing portfolio, American-Made, explores what it can mean to be a child of America from the perspective of a young Indian-American through a collection of short stories.
What was the inspiration behind your award-winning portfolio?
Amellia: The pieces in my art portfolio consist of a series of watercolor paintings that depict scenes of women hanging up clothes or fabric on a clothesline. The inspiration behind this was my desire to capture the unique colors and shadows that are created by direct sunlight on moving fabric.
Keerthi: The inspiration for this portfolio comes largely from my junior year in high school, as our lit curriculum centered around the American Dream through the ages. It stuck in my head; what does that mean today, in 21st century America? Especially when you’re someone like me, a young student, a female, a tired brown girl, a first-generation immigrant? My portfolio, American-Made, explores what it can mean to be a child of America—and how this country does not always constitute a happy ending for every one of its citizens. It represents my experiences growing up influenced by the enchanting ideal of the American Dream.
Do you have a favorite piece from your portfolio? If so, which one is it, and why is it your favorite?
Keerthi: “On the Pyre” is a short story that took me almost two years to finish, about an Indian-American woman who is able to speak with her ancestors as she grows old. It’s my favorite because it entangles fantastical elements with a realistic and vulnerable depiction of a first-generation immigrant—“On the Pyre”showed me new ways to explore myself within my fiction. It taught me that no idea is ‘too much’ to attempt.
Amellia: Yes! My favorite piece is “Colorful Breeze” because I thought it was a really unique angle and I loved getting to capture the expression and depth of colors on her face! Also, I know how laborious the blanket in this picture was to paint because each individual stripe had a different shape, color, and depth that contributed to the work as a whole, so it makes me appreciate this piece.
You were able to read, or see, a piece of work from another Gold Medal recipient’s portfolio. Which piece was it and what was your impression?
Keerthi: I had the pleasure of looking at Amellia’s painting “Early August Nostalgia.”The details of this painting are so gorgeous; I was first drawn to the way the sky blends in with the person’s clothing and how the colors are repeated. It feels like even when you may be doing simpler acts like laundry or chores, the background of your life can still affect you and never quite leaves.
Amellia: I read Keerthi’s short story “Nameless” and it was truly an incredible and well-written story that spoke to me and I feel will speak to many other artists and writers. It is about a young artist that moves across the sea and exchanges her name for a can of paint that will bring her fame, and the story eloquently expands upon how this purchased fame has made her a stranger to her own name. While I am sure it can be interpreted many different ways, to me it served as a reminder that one’s name holds power, and to sacrifice that for the world’s perception of perfection is to sacrifice your identity.
If you could have dinner with one notable artist or writer, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Amellia: I would have to say Mary Cassatt because she was a phenomenal impressionist painter who had to fight patriarchal norms daily to be held in the same high esteem as her male counterparts. I love her art which depicts mundane scenes of mothers and children in their everyday lives with delicate brushstrokes and colors that make the scenes almost dream-like. I would love to talk with her not only about her beautiful art, but also discuss and thank her for trailblazing a path for female artists, like myself, to be respected and recognized for their talent.
Keerthi: Rebecca F. Kuang! She’s a Chinese-American fantasy writer who authored one of my all-time favorite trilogies, The Poppy Warseries. Ever since I fell in love with her writing, she’s been one of my greatest inspirations when it comes to intertwining culture with craft. I’d have a million questions about her journey and process keeping her identity close in the speculative fiction market.
What’s next for you? What are your plans for the future?
Keerthi: I plan to pursue writing and a career in education going forward! I’ll be attending the University of California, Davis in the fall.
Amellia: I plan to continue my artistic education at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)! I’ll be majoring in User Experience Design and hopefully also minoring in painting while continuing to work on my art on the side.
Image: "Early August Nostalgia," Amellia Hausmann/Alliance for Young Artists & Writers; Writing: "Nameless," Keerthi Lakshmanan/Alliance for Young Artists & Writers