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Clemens HS junior wins prestigious state award in Art

Alyssa Wilcox’s journey to depict the ties between women, femininity and the natural world in ceramic was a labor-intensive adventure, spanning two months, combining three unique figures, in intricate detail, into an awe-inspiring and thought-provoking piece, titled Nature’s Grace. It earned the junior at Samuel Clemens a Gold Seal Medal, the equivalent to a state championship, at the Visual Arts Scholastic Event (VASE) contest held in San Marcos on April 29, 2023. Wilcox was one of only 151 entries out of over 30,000 submissions to win the prestigious accolade.


Amanda Aguilar, art teacher at Clemens HS, broke the news to Alyssa. “She’s like, ‘Alyssa, come here. You got it! You got it!” Wilcox recalled. Reaching the stratosphere of VASE seemed incomprehensible to Alyssa prior to the competition, especially when all of the campus art teachers tried to tamp down expectations. “It was two weeks of all the teachers saying, ‘It’s really hard to get that. That’s a really big accomplishment, so don’t get your hopes up,’ And then I get it,’ she said. 


Wilcox may have received the highest attainable award, but all six of her fellow contestants from Clemens HS also received medals: Allayah Gibson, Amelia Warner, Lyla Mechler, Jasmine Clark, Giselle Sutton and Marshall Buchanan. 


“We were wildly successful this year,” said Aguilar, who said she adjusted some of her teaching practices to accommodate a greater sense of artistic expression from her students. 


Aguilar’s AP Art class is built upon three principles the students themselves answer: Idea - Why are you making it? Material - What are you making? Process - How are you making it? 

I have the support to teach the students how to be artists by allowing them to create art in a safe place,” she said. “It’s a place where they are free to experiment, learn and grow over the course of the year. 


Wilcox concurs. “She critiques our art, but (Ms. Aguilar) doesn’t tell us what to make or what not to make. It’s different from 90 percent of the classes I’ve been in throughout my life.” 


Visualizing, sketching, revising and ultimately constructing the piece was an arduous, exacting and time-consuming process for Wilcox. She maximized her time in school to work on the project, shaping the materials and adjusting the colors and textures during a two-month period.  “This was kind of an accomplishment for me to spend that long on a piece,” Wilcox admitted sheepishly. “I lose interest fast.”


That focused intensity was completed with the painstaking process of intricately stringing beads onto the head of the visibly pregnant figurine, then adding a folded fabric around the bodies and crocheting a doily she dyed on the tablecloth the figures sat upon. The result is an inspired work that highlights the beauty of female adornment, connecting the mysteries that exist between women and nature. 


“Even if I didn't get (the award), I’d still be very proud of my piece,” she said. “It shows a lot of progress from my art last year, especially with the hands and faces, which was kind of my weak point last year.”


Now, Wilcox finds herself in a unique position. With the accomplishment of scaling the mountaintop under her belt, she faces the challenge of repeating it. The summit produced euphoria, but is bringing about a self-induced pressure to create a piece that will ask her to draw upon the free flowing spirit that guided her through this winning campaign. 


“I can’t just make art because it looks good,” Wilcox said. “There has to be a reason to make art. The whole reason art is important in society is that it has meaning. And if it doesn’t have meaning, then what’s the point of making it?”