By STEVEN NALLEY
Maggie George wanted to enter the 2012 National PTA Reflections contest, but there was a problem.
None of the pieces she wanted to submit fit within the contest’s size limits, George said. Thankfully, she said, Starkville High School art teacher Andrew Lark doesn’t just teach students like her to master structure, shading and color across multiple media — he also teaches them problem-solving skills.
“What I did was took some of my other pieces and overlaid them in Photoshop,” George said. “That way I could ... call it digital art and print it down to a size that worked for them. I could come up with something even more innovative (and) tie together some of my pieces to bring out the message I had.”
The result was “The Golden Aura of Tolerance,” a piece the National PTA recognized in late May as one of the top ten art submissions for the Reflections contest across the United States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The theme for this year’s contest was “Diversity Means ...” and George said she was excited about the theme from the moment she heard about it because diversity was already a running theme in her portfolio. For this reason, she said, National PTA’s recognition means a lot to her.
“I was really surprised, honestly, but I’m completely flattered,” George said. “I’m really happy someone sees the vision that I’m trying to convey and brings something back from that because I think that’s so important.”
George said diversity has always been important to her, largely because of her own experiences in the Starkville School District. She said she considers SSD to be more diverse than many other school districts, not only in terms of race, but also class.
“(In) larger cities, everyone’s kind of divided up into lower income, higher income, white (and) African American... but at Starkville schools, we have everyone,” George said. “There are a few issues that come with that, and I’ve run into that sometimes ... during my time in Mississippi. I’ve run into a few maybe racial tensions or just issues with diversity, but I’ve had to learn to work through it.”
George said she is originally from Austin, Texas and has returned there on several occasions. Sometimes, she says, people from outside Starkville ask her how she feels about living in such a small town.
“It taught me a lot, especially working through things like ... getting people to work together who might be from different backgrounds,” George said. “So, when I started building my portfolio, (tolerance) was a really logical choice for a theme. It also ties together with the White House. We’ve had diversity in this department for a really long time. Usually, if you come in, we’re going to have people who are Italian, Korean, Chinese, — just everything. We’ve got people from all over the world that come in here.”
One of George’s fellow art students, Ji Sun Mun, said she could attest to George’s love of diversity. Mun first came to SHS in 2010 and said George was one of the first friends she met.
“She really helped me with English a lot, and she’s influenced me a lot,” Mun said. “She always works really hard compared to many other people.”
Lark said George is a teacher’s dream and one of the best students he has taught. He said George is always willing to work with others and always challenging herself and others around her.
“She goes beyond the assignment (and) the expectations,” Lark said. “She asks more questions to try to outdo herself. She helps you grow and evaluate yourself as a teacher as well. Her willingness to commit to art (was) strong before she came to me. I look for her to go and be one of the most successful people out of this program.”
George said she has always loved art and drawing since she was young, but she considered it nothing more than a hobby before she met Lark.
“I never considered it to be a career path,” George said. “I never considered it to be something that could take so much work and so much of my time and really be something big ... in my life. We do the real deal in here. It’s not just fluffy paintings or something. We work hard in here. Mr. Lark has taught me a lot, too, about discipline and letting your passion drive what you do.”
George said she intends to attend the University of California at Berkeley and major in art, but she wants to be more than just an artist. Companies place a high premium on graduates with strong backgrounds in both art and science, she said, so she wants to bring the two together.
“Apparently, you get snatched up really quickly for that,” George said. “I’m looking at maybe doing something where I bring science into design, so bringing the artistic world and ... applying that to some upcoming technologies. There aren’t a whole lot of programs across the country that will do that, so I’m kind of building my own.”