Turn to the April page of the 2021 “Nebraska: Don’t waste it!” calendar because that’s where the most recent recognition of Theresa Schiavone’s art can be found. Its one piece in the Bayard High School student’s growing collection of work, but it’s certainly not the last published or printed Schiavone piece.
Amid a global pandemic, Schiavone is growing up and discovering her talent through tumultuous and unpredictable times. Her school was shut down in March, like all Nebraska schools, cutting her off from art supplies and direct access to teachers, mentors and social connections.
Bayard is known for many things, but producing artist is not one of them, according to Schiavone’s art teacher Jessica Scott. This can have a dampening effect on the ambitions and confidence of young art students like Schiavone, according to Scott.
“Other than (county) fair, I don’t really feel like the artists in that area gets a lot of publicity. So I don’t feel like people know about them. I feel like they think because they’re in this small school that they’re not going to measure up,” Scott said.
But those realities haven’t stopped Schiavone from creating art or receiving recognition for it.
Schiavone is a junior at Bayard High School. Like other teenagers, she balances her time between school, work and personal activities. But wherever she goes, Schiavone said she tries to keep a sketchbook nearby.
“I really, really try to fit art into my schedule every day,” she said.
Several features of Schiavone’s skills impress her teacher. Scott, who first met Schiavone while substituting at Bayard, said she adjusted her teaching style to better fit Schiavone’s learning. For example, Scott said she allows Schiavone to shade with a dulled rounded pencil point, instead of the traditional flat slide.
“She definitely has the eye already, she has the knack,” Scott said.
Scott said the way Schiavone creates depth and value ranges with her shading method “blows her mind.”
The piece that won her the April page in the 2021 “Nebraska don’t waste it!” Calendar was one of her first pieces created during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent school closures.
She was inspired by March and April’s influx of art with faces covered by masks. Schiavone was also inspired by what other students might see as a mundane icon in their everyday lives; magnifying glasses depicted in biology textbooks.
“It’s a larger portion of the smaller thing,” Schiavone said of the magnifying glasses.
In her piece for the calendar, three focus points leaving a highlighted Nebraska, depict a compost pile, a woman in a beanie and face mask and three pairs of different skin-colored hands holding potted plants.
“I didn’t think I would win. I thought there was going to be a lot of kids entering their work and I was just one of those kids,” she said.
The contest is a yearly call for submissions from the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) to fill a calendar called “Nebraska: don’t waste it!” Schiavone is the only recipient from the Panhandle for the 2021 edition of the calendar.
“At first I thought it was a telemarketer,” Schiavone said when she got the call from a Lincoln area code. “I was really close to ending the call until they told me what my name was.”
Schiavone said her art teacher at Bayard really wanted her to submit something to this year’s calendar.
For Scott, pushing her students to be their own advocates is one of the most important lessons the art teacher wants to impress upon her students.
According to Scott, the combination of this lesson and the realities of the stay-at-home practices gave Schiavone the perfect opportunity “to be her own advocate,” as Scott puts it.
Before COVID-19, Scott would gather submissions for contests, complete the necessary paperwork and inform the students of the results. With Bayard High shuttered in March and the possibility of a coronavirus outbreak, none of that was possible.
“If it wouldn’t have been for having to be online, I probably would have handled all of it,” Scott said.
Instead, Schiavone managed to mail off her artwork by herself, meeting all the sizing and mailing criteria. She said she put an extra stamp on the package to ensure it got to Lincoln in one piece.
The circumstances accompanying the global pandemic also gave Schiavone time to develop her depictions of anatomy; something her teacher said was already one of her strengths.
But COVID-19 has been a source of anxiety as well as reflection for the young artist.
Schiavone said that her early days in quarantine were dark and she was afraid of exposing her father to the deadly virus. Despite the darkness, Schiavone sees something beautiful in the mist as she explores her world through art.
“You accidentally show bits and pieces of what was realistically going on that can’t be changed by any historian’s opinion,” Schiavone said. “I just find that beautiful because it’s happening in my age and I’m allowed to see it firsthand.”
COVID-19 also interrupted Schiavone’s plans after high school.
As a junior, Schiavone is the midst of exploring options for college. She is deciding how to best further her talents while ensuring she has the opportunity to explore other interests, either of which she hopes to fit within her financial means. Right now, she’s looking at schools in Colorado.
Whatever she chooses, her art teacher and mentor at Bayard High has high hopes for her. But for now, Scott said she’s proud of Schiavone’s accomplishments thus far and hopes that her recognition in the calendar will inspire her to put herself out there even more.
“I try to tell her all the time, it's things like these that will put her on somebody else's map and get her the scholarships she needs,” Scott said. “I think it’s more than a hobby for her.”
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