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Oldham ’19 Profiled in Splatter Magazine

View Photo of Seattle Academy's Costumer Designers

Lily Hotchkiss, Seattle Academy's visual arts teacher, is the Independent and Private School Representative on the board of the Washington Arts Education Association. She was recently asked to write an article for the winter issue of their journal, Splatter Magazine. Lily chose to profile one of our seniors, Carmen Oldham ’19, and her role as Costume Designer for several of Seattle Academy’s productions. Below is the profile.

Empowering the Self-Directed Student: A Profile of Carmen Oldham '19

When Tracy asked me to write an article as the Independent/ Private Institutions Rep, I knew I wanted to focus on a student profile that highlights both collaboration across disciplines, and how to empower self-directed students in and out of the classroom. This, I feel, exemplifies our approach in the arts at Seattle Academy, and aligns with my own values as an educator where I see myself as more of a facilitator and guide than anything else.

Carmen Oldham is a senior at Seattle Academy. Accomplished and curious, Carmen had an opportunity to take on the role of Costume Designer for our winter play, Animal Farm. Mentored by faculty member and resident Costume Designer, Chris Tschirgi, this was a continuation of a mentorship which began years earlier when Carmen took Chris’ Costume Design class: “Carmen is unique as a high school student because she has the ability to hear different points of view and fold that into her own art. She is able to set aside what doesn’t work with her point of view and work with what does.”

“I identify as an artist. The things that I love all come back to art. The concept was influenced by art, me as a person and also looking at history. It’s a culmination of multiple facets of my life. There was an earthquake drill at school during my poetry class and I was under the table with the poetry teacher, Laurie Conner. We were talking about my art and its intersection with people, history, and literature. ‘Trust yourself’ which she says all the time and said again then, really pertains to this project. It’s vulnerable. The whole show is being designed around my aesthetic and so I had to suck it up and trust myself.”

Part of being a teacher is identifying students with skills and interests and then creating opportunities for them. An equally important part, is getting out of the way. Once Carmen was given the script and met with both Chris and director Michael Cimino to discuss both the bigger concepts and the timeline, Carmen was given the freedom to research and be inspired by her own response to the material. As a sounding board for her, we would often meet to talk about art movements and brainstorm her ideas. As an ongoing collaborator with the theater department where I help to build small props and puppets, I came on board as her builder.

“Carmen was very adult in her being able to translate what I was saying conceptually into a design that was not only unique but based on a form of art that went hand in hand historically with the time period that the historical events were based on in the story.” Michael Cimino watching Carmen fill her journal with sketches, color schemes, inspirations and ideas was like watching a bath bomb explode: color upon color, unexpected movement, surprises. She drew on many different movements including the Bauhaus and artists like Paul Klee. She broke down the characters into animals and back again to wed the two into puppet forms that represented the characters and were given life by the actors. Sharing her thoughts on the process, Carmen said, “I identify as an artist. The things that I love all come back to art. The concept was influenced by art, me as a person and also looking at history. It’s a culmination of multiple facets of my life. There was an earthquake drill at school during my poetry class and I was under the table with the poetry teacher, Laurie Conner. We were talking about my art and its intersection with people, history, and literature. ‘Trust yourself’ which she says all the time and said again then, really pertains to this project. It’s vulnerable. The whole show is being designed around my aesthetic and so I had to suck it up and trust myself.”

So what are the conditions under which Carmen thrived? The primary one is having teachers who are invested in their students. Who see an interest and follow that up with a viable path that students can take and offer them further opportunities to take risks. It continues with having teachers who, across disciplines, are accessible, even in an earthquake! But all of the above comes back to trust. Creating trust and building relationships that put students at the center of their own learning is key.

 

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