Picture this: a small, asymmetrical object made of felt, standing on three pencil-thin legs. From its roundish, gray body grows an array of neon-colored extremities, including antlers — or maybe branches — orbs, and a flowing, horse-like tail.
This odd specimen was made by Aida DeWeese-Boyd, an eighth grader at the Waldorf School at Moraine Farm, in Beverly, with her mentor, Jessica Thistlethwaite. As DeWeese-Boyd put it, it’s a “pod creature” — but you can call it “George.”
“It’s a very sort of surreal plant-animal being, I guess you can say,” she explained, carefully pondering her own creation. “It’s very up to interpretation.” But ultimately it matters less to DeWeese-Boyd what “George” is versus what it invokes. “I want people to take away that things don’t always have to be realistic to be beautiful,” she said. “They can be completely strange and something never seen before, but still really interesting.”
“George” earned DeWeese-Boyd a Gold Key in this year’s Massachusetts Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, joining around 4,000 honorees across the Commonwealth in the competition’s regional division. Since 1923, the national program has spotlighted exceptional work by artists and writers in grades 7 through 12, honoring the likes of Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, and Andy Warhol long before they were household names. The statewide competition, sponsored by the Boston Globe Foundation, is the longest-running partnership with Scholastic’s national program. It is in its 68th year.
This year, the Boston Globe Foundation is sponsoring the awards in partnership with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University. Along with hosting the awards ceremony, the school will hold an exhibit featuring the regional Gold Key winners. “Supporting emerging artists has become a very high priority at Tufts, as epitomized by our adoption in 2016 of the historic School of the Museum of Fine Arts,” said Nancy Bauer, dean of the SMFA at Tufts. “We believe strongly that artists are at the heart of ensuring the health of our civic life, constantly reframing and reimagining for us who we are, what we care about, how we should act, and where we need to go."
James Glaser, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences said, “Tufts is very pleased to host the Scholastic ceremony on our campus. These awards shine a light on the best young artists and writers in the state and give us great hope for the future of the arts.”
Lesley Davison, the awards’ regional program director, said that 15,800 pieces — 2,800 written works and 13,000 visual artworks — were submitted this year in 29 categories. After a comprehensive judging process by art and literary professionals, winners received a Gold Key, Silver Key, or honorable mention award. Gold Key winners, including DeWeese-Boyd, automatically move on to the national competition. In addition, the Boston Globe Foundation will award two $5,000 scholarships.
Along with her Gold Key and national nomination, DeWeese-Boyd is a national American Visions nominee, an award given to visual works of exceptional originality and technical skill. A parallel award, American Voices, is offered to writers. Additional American Visions nominees include Jackson Fyfe of Newton South High School, Max Hon-Anderson of Bedford High School, Juliette Plante of Holliston High School, and Zitong Xu of Northfield Mount Hermon School.
Works like “George” freely explore the surreal and abstract, displaying the full power of young imaginations at work. Other submissions, in contrast, look outward as well as in, contemplating events currently shaping our world and adding young, unique voices to the conversation. Yunkyo Kim, a senior from Lexington High School, took cues from movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up in her poem “Self-Care Is Important,” a candid and sobering reflection of worth in the eyes of oneself as well as others.
“As a writer, I’m always trying to look within myself and connect it to the outside world,” she explained. “I would say that the #MeToo movement definitely inspired a lot of parts of this poem, but it also comes from my experience with sexual assault as well. The movement and its momentum inspired me to delve more into it, explore what that was like, and how that impacted me. I think it was a really good time to write that poem.”
Kim won a Gold Key and an American Voices nomination for her poem. Other American Voices nominees include Hyowon Kang of Concord Academy, Jula Kautz of Waring School, Cassandra Schifman of Bishop Feehan High School, and Jennifer Vega of Beacon Academy.
Visually, Pentucket Regional High School senior Max Masterson explored the same subject as Kim with his pair of Gold Key-winning portfolios, “GIRLS” and “Not Yours.” Provocative and abrasively eye-catching, Masterson takes on the exploitative and hyper-sexualized representation of women in media. “I wanted to express it in two different ways — through photography and graphic design — because I think they both hold a lot of power individually as mediums,” he said. “ ‘Not Yours’ explores directly how women have been affected through certain scenarios, while ‘GIRLS’ is a more simple way to represent the idea of how girls are sexualized a lot more than men.”
Up until now, Masterson admits, most of his art was either “busy work or just for fun,” but with these recent works he has a better sense of the power art holds in grabbing viewers’ attention and sparking awareness of relevant issues — something especially important for those on the cusp of adulthood. “I’ve grown up in a sheltered town where these things aren’t super relevant, and there’s really no notice on these types of issues. But people need to take notice . . . because I think when you go into the real world after high school in a place like this, it’s hard to wrap your head around the possibility of what the world holds,” he said.
The regional Gold Key exhibition will be open to the public on the Tufts campus at Breed Memorial Hall, 51 Winthrop St., Medford, from March 17 to March 25.Robert Steiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org