Over the next several months, we will highlight some of our talented scholars, artists and athletes who are living the School’s mission. Alexandra ‘23 and Sam ‘23 exemplify the Friends spirit in their dedication to their craft, diligence, and commitment to community. Their talents are juxtaposed with their grace and humility, aspiring to create art that is for everyone; work that makes us think, challenges our sense of selves, and tells stories yet to be written.
Alexandra ‘23 was going to have a career in the sciences. She pictured herself holding a beaker or researching the complexities of human behavior and mental processes. But Friends took her on an unexpected adventure—one that would inspire her to explore neurosciences through a different medium.
While she always had an innate talent for art, it never piqued her interest, so she opted to put her free time toward sports. On a whim she started taking visual arts classes and ended up really enjoying them. In Stephanie Teo’s ceramics classes, she began experimenting with different mediums, including clay—which currently serves as the basis for her work—but she also utilizes beadwork and even created a piece out of candy. Alexandra developed a unique fondness for making sculptures of heads, echoing her core interest in behavioral sciences.
Stephanie describes this journey: “I recall the first time she made a miniature ceramic head. This was during her sophomore year under the bizarre circumstances of hybrid-learning and the constraints of having to work on a smaller scale. One day, she brought in from home a miniature head to the Ceramics Studio to be fired. The next week, she brought in another miniature head, which became three heads, and each iteration was not only stronger from a technical standpoint, but also visually different. During her senior year, this head motif returned, but this time, in a different formation and on a larger scale. The underlying thread of all of Alexandra's ceramics journey is a relentless dedication to create and innovate. She speaks through the artwork she makes, and always, with purpose.”
Alexandra speaks with a maturity beyond her 18 years, providing an illuminating interpretation of her art spanning “different universal human experiences and the mind-body disconnection.” Her interest in psychology plays through in her work as she explores memories and the way they change over time and how we present ourselves to the world around us, while weaving in her own personal narrative. She continues, “Art is an autobiography. If an artist is making a piece, it’s coming from their experiences and the way they see things. It’s from their mind to their hand. There’s nothing in between. I’ve learned a great deal about myself through making art and the things I subconsciously do.”
In the 2021-2022 school year she took Advanced Studio with Andrew Harrison and realized she wanted to pursue art as a career after she started applying more conceptual ideas behind painting and drawing. The Advanced Studio Class is the Visual Arts Department's highest level course, designed for motivated students interested in any artistic discipline and eager to fully explore their creative potential. Alexandra shared, “Andrew helped me with my ideas and how I can best visually represent them and what materials to use.”
In May 2021 Alexandra was one of 12 Advanced Studio student artists to exhibit their work at Caelum Gallery in Chelsea, an important milestone for any aspiring artist. Her piece, “The Process”, a meticulously designed miniature bedroom, represented a second semester Concentration Project—a deep-dive into her personal interests, allowing for the full development of conceptual ideas, processes and materials. She describes the work as a “three-step piece” and an examination of “changing memories over time.” The exhibit also allowed her to listen to other people’s stories and reflections as they walked through her work.
Andrew explains, “Creativity is a process, and Alexandra realized this early during her time in Advanced Studio. While always quick to develop an initial idea for a project, she was rarely satisfied. With each long session in the studio, she pushed herself to use materials in more novel ways to deepen her conceptual approach. She is the rare young artist that merges superior technical skills with a deeply thoughtful and intellectual approach.”
The budding artist also discussed her dream project: a massive sculpture head with hollowed-out eyes and reflective surfaces that allows its audience to physically enter it, distorting the parallels of control, behavior and live interaction. “It’s like we have little people in our heads” that influence how we act in public. Her dream piece would allow the viewer to switch places with them.
She is an astute viewer of art and cites Liza Lou’s Kitchen, a monumental, full scale installation encrusted in a rainbow of glistening beads as a recent inspiration. Advanced Studio viewed the exhibition at the Whitney as the class regularly visits museums and galleries throughout the academic year. It’s easy to see how this piece could have an effect on the budding artist as she also sees her art as somewhat autobiographical and welcome to interpretation. “To me it’s a commentary on the female domestic space. It’s really symbolic and is aligned with what I’m interested in—these human norms that exist but are beautified.”
“Her development as a young artist has been nothing short of astonishing, and expectations for her are high as she heads north to cause some good trouble in Boston next year,” Andrew says.
Alexandra will be attending Boston University and plans to continue exploring fine arts and sculpture.
Sam’s ‘23 home away from home is the ceramics studio. You can usually find him there during lunch, after school and during breaks when many students are far from 16th Street. Even when not in the studio, he is omnipresent—his fascinating hand-built, oversized pots and ceramic creations bookend the halls, begging for passersby to take a closer look. They are often thoughtful and charming, some sophisticated with an artistry bent and others in direct reference to food or nature.
At the outset, Sam maintains that the process of creating art is the greatest reward and is focused on simply having fun. “I cannot stress how much time I spend in the studio.” Despite clocking hundreds of hours mastering his techniques, his humble demeanor shines through. “I don’t think I have an innate talent,” he laughs.
Sam isn’t boxed into one medium. He loves experimenting with collage and fiber arts, adding homemade embellishments to clothes with fabric scraps. He took it a step further with Mask (pictured above), a fiber sculpture. He plans to continue honing his skills developing sculptural garments, in part inspired by his sister, Piper Morrison ‘19, a dancer currently studying at Oberlin.
“I like to create things that are interesting to look at and make people want to get closer to it and really see all angles of it,” Sam stated. He cited that the average museum goer spends approximately eight seconds looking at a piece. He aims to change that with his glazed ceramics, illustrative glazing and embellishment combined with storytelling and nostalgia.
The burgeoning artist has built a rapport with the Visual Arts Department over his 13 years at Friends. He fondly recalls his Lower School years with Andrea, participated in Morgan’s first Grade 5 class, and revealed that “he can’t give Andrew Harrison enough props for helping me with my portfolio and pushing me out of my comfort zone.”
He also cites Stephanie Teo as a continuous supporter of his studies. Stephanie remarks, "Sam enters every single ceramics class with a new idea. His creative process is remarkable. He juggles multiple on-going projects that are thematically strong and technically challenging. Through witnessing Sam’s work ethic and seeing the laborious nature of every single piece, I can attest that not only does he have ambitious and well-developed ideas, but he also has the discipline and passion to accomplish these goals. As an educator, I feel privileged to support him through his clay journey."
A selection of his work in Advanced Studio was recently recognized by the 2023 NYC Scholastic Art and Writing Awards
, presented by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. Sam won 2 Gold Keys (Mask, Turtle Set) and 2 Silver Keys (What Are They Talking About?, 3,000.99) as well as an Honorable Mention (Luminaries). Led by a panel of creative professionals, the Awards continue to be the longest-running, most prestigious recognition program for creative teens in the United States. Since 1923, they have recognized some of America’s most celebrated artists and writers while they were teenagers, including: Tschabalala Self, Stephen King, Kay WalkingStick, Charles White, Joyce Carol Oates, and Andy Warhol.
Andrew Harrison explains, “Sam’s work ethic and commitment to the process is remarkable. He’s got laser-like focus that has resulted in a body of work that is sophisticated, visually dynamic, and deeply engaging in both form and concept. Sam is the type of student that keeps me on my toes as a teacher, making me a better practitioner of my pedagogical craft. When Sam gets going, there is no stopping him.”
But it’s not just a strong skill set and that he’s developed while at Friends. Sam’s commitment to community was evident in his work with Lower Schoolers during after school arts programming. Laura McGinley, Director of Extended Programs, shared: “Sam worked with us in After Owls last year, being a force of reliability, partnership, and good humor. He encouraged creativity during Funhouse activities, and worked alongside our teachers in the various studio art programs. Beyond After Owls, it was a joy to see Sam connect with and share a hello with Lower School participants in the hallways, reminding us about the power of the K-12 connection here at Friends.
Sam will be attending The School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University next year where he will continue to concentrate on having fun with art and experimenting.