ST. PETERSBURG – For high school sophomore Kiara Rivera, the path to gold is paved with clay.
The Lakewood High student won the gold medal in the ceramics and glass category of the 2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for her sculpture “Under the Big Top.” She is one of 12 Pinellas County students this year to receive a national medal in what is renowned as the nation’s longest-running and most prestigious recognition program for creative teens in grades 7–12.
Yet, the last thing on the 16-year-old’s mind was winning a medal in a distinguished competition. Her assignment in art class was simply to sketch out various designs for a sculpture. With the help of her art teacher Jayce Ganchou, she’d then select one to shape and mold into three-dimensional life.
“He gave each one of us our own little block of clay, and we had to create the pieces,” Rivera explained. “I realized they were a little too plain for me so I started to add texture to them. Make them all different. All of them were all smooth and had no texture and no dimension.”
‘Under the Big Top’
Because she wanted her work to stand out, Rivera decided to use a dry brushing technique where she applied an initial coat of black paint to give her piece an “aged” look. The overall look of her yet-unfinished piece started to remind her of a circus.
“I remember as a kid, the show ‘JoJo’s Circus’ was my favorite show,” she said. “And it became more of a representation of myself because it still showed your inner child but it showed maturity—how you’ve matured—because of its aged look.”
From designing to sculpting to baking and painting, it took Rivera about two weeks to finish her project, and she credits Ganchou with providing her with helpful guidance and instruction on how to best bring all the components of “Under the Big Top” together.
“He showed me how I could balance them to make them look better because at first I didn’t know what order I wanted to put them in,” she pointed out.
Aside from merely technical advice, Ganchou also suggested that Rivera work on the piece based on how she was feeling that day, “so I can make it more personal,” she said.
Her instructor submitted pictures of “Under the Big Top” to the Scholastic Art & Writing program, and Rivera’s work won a regional award. Her work then went on to be judged in the national competition.
Rivera plans to attend the Scholastic Art & Writing National Ceremony on June 8 at Carnegie Hall in New York with her brother and mother, who noted that growing up her daughter has always been drawn to the arts.
“She works in different mediums,” Kimberly Rivera explained. “Drawing, painting and sculpting.”
The Lakewood High student plans not only on majoring in art in college but pursuing a career in art. Her tastes in art vary and span centuries as she lists Vincent Van Gogh and Brazilian neo-pop artist Romero Britto among artists she admires.
This will be Rivera’s first-ever trip to the Big Apple, where she hopes to take in some sightseeing and a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
How does it make Rivera feel to win such an esteemed award?
“I honestly didn’t even think I would even get it because at first I didn’t really like my piece,” she admitted. “And I didn’t think I would ever win such an honorable award because I thought it was just something I made in art class. I didn’t really think it was as good as other people said it was. But it was.”