By Phoebe Eis, Staff Writer
Photograph by Matan Ziv
After a hectic first semester of school, classes are falling into some sort of rhythm, and AP Studio Art is no exception– students’ portfolios are well underway, and every B day during third block, Room 121 is abuzz with music, conversations, and creation. Unique topics and driving questions have been selected by each student, which will propel their artmaking in the class for the rest of the year– what AP curriculum calls a “sustained investigation.”
Every two weeks, on a Friday, it’s time to critique; our tiny class gathers in the back of the room and hangs up our newborn artworks on large boards, standing back to take in everyone’s handiwork and formulate a response. Discussions last the better part of the block, allowing us to briefly escape the world outside of the art room and enter the expansive, moldable world of color, shape, and composition.
A consistent, engaged contributor of art and discussion is Flora Pierson, a seventeen-year-old senior artist. She’s eager to show us her sketchbook during critiques, filled with meticulous planning– scrawled notes, compiled images from other artists, and sketches– and explain her thought process to us. She’s equally ready to critique or compliment her classmates’ art: remark on the way someone has rendered the shadows here and chosen complementary colors there, or make suggestions on how to improve their work.
“Open-minded” is how Flora characterizes herself, after some thinking–an apt descriptor that captures not only her approachable, interested nature, but what she embodies inside and out: the boldness to experiment with both personal style and artistic media, to learn all she can about her diverse interests, and to take inspiration from anything, anyone. You might recognize her from her stylish outfits alone, which could feature anything from cowboy boots, to a kilt, to overalls (and somehow always look perfectly curated), but her open-mindedness isn’t merely superficial.
She’s often a friendly face in a sea of peers, one who possesses a unique ability to make others feel comfortable in the simplest, most genuine ways– whether it’s a little wave hello or starting a conversation about a movie or tonight’s homework load. She can be seen engaging with kids from various cliques in the school with ease; connecting amiably with teachers and staff; attending school events, camera at the ready for NPZ footage; and helping out with clubs.
Outside of school, Flora might be out in the middle of the woods or on top of a mountain. “I like to go on hikes,” she tells me, “be in nature.” Flora’s been involved with Wild Earth outdoor programs for years and even works as a counselor over the summer, but she also ventures into the wilderness leisurely with her friends. She has a “polar plunge” tradition too–for her, jumping into freezing-cold autumn waters is a way to get a natural rush and enjoy the outdoors.
When she’s not engaged in daredevil antics she has numerous other creative hobbies and passions to keep her busy. Indeed, Pierson has a range of talents outside of visual arts, from video editing to crafts. “I like to knit,” she says, “I’m knitting all my Christmas presents right now.”
Flora adds, “I also like to make zines. I do that at Dia,” (the contemporary art museum in Beacon, New York, where her mother works). Her zines are “mostly collages, then I’ll sew into them,” she explains. Her experimentation with collage, mixed media, and textiles is evident in her impressively unique portfolio of work, which features beaded details, incorporation of photos, and stitching– both machine and hand-done.
Flora has a knack for pairing the familiar and the unexpected in her work: a recognizable scene of a New Paltz street with refreshingly bold colors, a self portrait with rounded edges and cut out symbols. Yet her art remains grounded by strong technical skill and familiarity with “traditional” media, like her favorite, acrylic paint. Smoothly rendered objects, no matter how surreal they are, are curated carefully to create a strange yet pleasant world, all her own.
“Being in this environment with a whole class inspires me. Everyone has their own plan; we’re not competitive with each other. It’s nice to see other people inspired on their own terms.”Flora Pierson
Now, she’s honing that world in AP Studio. “My theme is Waldorf school… the psychology of Waldorf,” she says. Pierson attended Mountain Laurel Waldorf school in New Paltz until seventh grade and it still drives her work. “Every year, every grade there are different things that you can and cannot do. They introduce new media every grade and every grade you learn a different curriculum,” she clarifies. She is mirroring this artistic, psychological evolution in her work now, gradually adding colors and techniques.
With that comes the complex relationship with Waldorf education. “It’s interesting to look back at because it felt like a very artistic school but there wasn’t a lot of freedom– the teacher would draw something on the board and you’d have your notebook and you’d just copy it,” says Flora. “Now I’m seeing that all my friends’ notebooks look the same, or if you google images of Waldorf school you get the same things we did!”
For the possible drawbacks of creative restriction, there were perks, too. “The art reflects the curriculum,” she says. “For every lesson you learn, you make a painting or a drawing. There was never a designated art class because that overlapped with all your classes.” This interdisciplinary approach to arts and academics is certainly unfamiliar to us public school kids, and maybe New Paltz could stand to learn something from Waldorf education– especially if Waldorf helped shape such an inventive mind as Flora’s.
As she reconciles her attachment to her younger years and her still-forming artistic identity, Flora is exploring it all with maturity and poise, but also a sense of whimsy– her own personal flair– motivating her peers to do the same in their own ways. In turn, she appreciates the supportive, close-knit community our art class has fostered for her.
“Being in this environment with a whole class inspires me. Everyone has their own plan; we’re not competitive with each other,” says Flora. “It’s nice to see other people inspired on their own terms.”