Photo by Meg Hibbert
Irene Rita Joy Johnson is one of the outstanding graduates in this Friday’s Glenvar High School Class of 2017, but she won’t be among those “walking” to receive diplomas on Friday in Highlander Stadium.
Instead, Irene will walk across the stage at Carnegie Hall in New York City to receive a national art award, which is known as the most prestigious art competition in the nation for art students.
The 19-year-old who studies art at Burton Center for Arts and Technology got to wear her GHS gold-colored graduation gown and receive her diploma during Senior Awards Ceremony on May 26 in Glenvar’s auditorium. That’s when Principal Joe Hafey recognized Irene for her accomplishments and she got a big round of applause from fellow students, teachers and parents.
The award is the American Visions Medal, presented by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers in the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards competition.
The national ceremony is Thursday night, and on Friday when Glenvar students are graduating, Irene and 15 other American Visions winners from across the nation will be visiting the Parsons School of Design at The New School and Pratt Institute’s Pratt Manhattan Gallery where their winning artwork is displayed.
Later those award-winning creations will be in a traveling exhibit that will go across the country. “I don’t know where it is going, but it’s exciting to think that our work will be seen by other people in other states,” Irene said in an interview this week with the Salem Times-Register.
The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers made the announcement about Irene and other students nationally on May 14.
Irene earned two awards, the American Visions Medal for Drawing & Illustration, titled “The Real Me,” and a Gold Medal for Mixed Media for her work “Bay.” She won three American Visions awards at the regional level, for those two works and “Multiplicity,” which she described as three faces.
Her top winning artwork is black-and-white pastel pencil drawing on pastel board, and is a stylized portrait of herself, complete with curly hair. “I was just trying to capture how I feel on the inside with all this going on,” Irene said, referring to her final year in high school.
“Bay” was mixed media creation, which she did during a summer art course at the Residential Governors School at Radford University, where she studied with Dr. Richard Bay.
“I used colored pencil, pen and a little bit of watercolor. Dr. Bay made art out of anything. He would bring his dog to class, and I drew her, too. He’s had a really big impact on my art, like getting looser and more crazy,” she said.
Earlier on Thursday, Irene and other winners will take part in a “Maker Prom” where they will have an opportunity to create, as well as dance and eat. Meanwhile, her mom, Kathy Johnson of Salem, and grandmother, Brenda McDaniel, will be attending a reception for families.
“I’ve always drawn since I was in elementary school at Glenvar Elementary School, where I was in the Gifted Art Classes,” Irene explained. “In middle school, one of my teachers, Pam Rose, recommended I go to Burton.”
At the Burton Center for Arts and Technology, a Roanoke County regional specialty center that is located across from East Salem Elementary School, she met her best friends, since they went to school together every other day from 7:20 a.m. to 11 a.m. for four years. “It is a tight-knit group,” Irene added.
Next year, Irene will attend Virginia Western Community College for at least a year or two, “and I would love to attend VCU to major in Fine Arts. I’m planning on getting my basic classes out of the way and taking a few art classes,” she said.
Her goal is to someday sell her art “but I want to continue to work at the kennel, Clip and Dips in Cave Spring, because “I like being around dogs and helping to take care of them and love on them,” she added. Irene has worked at the kennel on weekends while she’s been in school.
In her spare time, she listens to music and plays with her puppy, Pixie, a Chihuahua. She admitted, “I like interacting with dogs better than humans.”
She was the only student from Virginia on the published list who won the American Visions Medal for Drawing and Illustration. Two other Burton Center for Arts and Technology students won silver medals for their works. Burton senior Mary Willa Foy, who was in classes with Irene, won for her piece, “New York,” and Brook Ludy won for her “Noke Train.” Brook has already begun selling prints of her artwork in the Roanoke area.
Only gold medal and American Visions Medal winners and their families were invited to the New York City art and writing awards ceremony this week.
Irene is the student of Natalie Strum at Burton. She credited her grandparents, Brenda and John McDaniel of Salem, as being huge supporters in her life.