Art can create opportunity

Matt Echelberry

February 24, 2014

Galion High School senior Seth VanDine, the son of Dave and Glory VanDine, has a piece of artwork on display at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Out of more than 2,000 submissions, 99 pieces of art and literature were selected by professional artists to go on display at the museum, which is one of the top five art museums in the country and one of the top ten in the world.

No big deal.

VanDine participated in the Cleveland Clinic eXpressions, an annual contest open to public and private high schools in Ohio that encourages “the creative exploration of science and medicine.” His piece, called “Bullseye,” features four faces drawn with graphite. They represent cancer patients of different ages, which the artist explained shows that cancer can affect anyone.

On Jan. 30 VanDine went to a ceremony at the museum to receive his honorable mention award. His parents were at his side, along with his art teacher, Linda Wilson, and English teacher Kay Faulkner.

He said it was a big honor to receive the award. The gallery opened that night and his piece was matted in a stainless steel frame. His first thought when he saw it was: “Wow, it’s not every person who gets to hang a piece in a museum beside famous artists…Upstairs there were Picassos and Rembrants.”

“Bullseye” is on display through March 9.

“Seth did a really amazing job,” Linda Wilson lauded. “To see where he started at and where he’s gone to is amazing.” For her, seeing a student’s work on display alongside pieces from many wealthy and prestigious schools throughout the state is incredible.

She went on to say she saw a glimmer of ability in VanDine during his freshman year, but “talent means nothing without motivation,” and when she got that spark of motivation lit, his work steadily improved.

Each year students in her advanced classes are welcome to submit to the contest. It is not specific to any grade levels, but Wilson said they need to show a maturity with their work. The students are responsible for the submission, which is done online. This project is voluntary because believes they need to want to do it rather than be forced to.

Students who submitted to the competition first had to select a topic and review research conducted by interns at the Cleveland Clinic. Then they created artwork based on their interpretations of the research.

VanDine chose targeted cancer therapies as his topic. The research that inspired him was conducted by Emma Coley. He said he learned a lot through the process and explained that these therapies offer better treatment for cancer patients than radiation and chemotherapy. (Targeted cancer therapies have a 60 percent success rate.)

In the center of his piece, there is a cancer cell (portraying what it looks like when viewed through a microscope) that was sketched with colored pencil. Two white rings break up the cell to make it look like a target, representing targeted cancer therapies. The phrase “EML4-ALK” appears repeatedly throughout the background, a fusion protein that, once activated, reproduces until it creates cancerous tumors.

On why he chose that topic, VanDine explained he had a grandfather and a great-grandfather (on the other side of the family) who both died of cancer. He recalled that his grandfather was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and told he had six months to live.

Last week Wilson and her students were busy preparing work for the Governor’s Art Show on March 6, trying to catch up after all of the school closings. The regional winners will be displayed at the Mansfield Art Center for six weeks.

Wilson said she focuses on bigger competitions like these because winners receive college scholarships and awards. Even for students who do not pursue an art-related field, including it on a resume is often an advantage. “It shows them the world of opportunity that’s out there,” she concluded.

Wilson found out about the Cleveland Clinics eXpressions by accident. She explained her mother was a patient at the Cleveland Clinic several years ago and while visiting her she saw artwork displayed from that year’s contest. In 2007 she started encouraging her students submit their work; Steven Buehrer was a blue ribbon winner that year and last year a piece by Brandon Bennett was displayed for honorable mention.

When the pieces are returned, the students can do what they want with them — whether it’s displaying them at the school or approaching local businesses about featuring the work. But the responsibility is on their shoulders.

“It’s for them,” Wilson continued. “You never know what their work will lead to.” Students often find career interests through these projects, such as one past student who made a ceramic model of the human heart and went on to become a cardiologist.

For VanDine, receiving the award gave his portfolio a boost: He was recently accepted into the Cleveland Institute of Art with a $34,000 merit scholarship. He plans to study industrial design. “I wish more would get involved. It’s not every day you get a chance to do something like this,” he reflected.

Connor Campbell, another of Wilson’s art students, was just accepted into the Cleveland Institute as well.