By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Northborough – Before graduating from Algonquin Regional High School (ARHS) this spring, Samantha Panzera won the grand prize of the Massachusetts Art Education Association's art competition to celebrate Youth Art Month at the Worcester Art Museum in March. During the summer, she received her prize: an all-expense paid trip to New York City along with her mother, Cynthia, and her art teacher, Michelle Sheppard.
“We didn's know it was a competition,” Sheppard said. “It had been an art show for many years and at some point Sargent Art started sponsoring a competition. It's kind of nice that we didn's know because there was no pressure.”
The three-day visit to NYC began with a first-time experience for each of them: a ride on the Amtrak Acela Express. That evening they were among 71 art students, parents and art teachers from across the country who attended an awards dinner, where the winners” artwork was displayed.
“Students didn's know they's need to speak about their artwork at the awards dinner,” Sheppard said, adding that Samantha presented a poised explanation of her prize-winning entry.
The entry was a color photograph, which was one of a series that Samantha had done as a long-term project throughout a six-month period. The series had been displayed at ARHS.
“The project was based on the loss of innocence and things that have made her grow up faster than a lot kids, especially kids at Algonquin,” Sheppard explained. “Her father died when she was young. The core concept of the piece we entered was her losing her dad.”
Samantha's father, Joseph, passed away when she was 9. The winning entry pictured a stuffed teddy bear hanging from a chandelier in an empty dining room of a house where her family formerly lived.
“The picture was so simple, but very eloquent,” Sheppard noted. “She used so many things precisely to deliver her message – an empty room, blue walls, a little bit of a warm-colored wood floor, and an empty space left around the bear. You could really see the emptiness, isolation and loneliness in the picture.”
In addition to the awards dinner, the weekend included visits to several famous attractions. They got a bird's-eye view of the city from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck at Rockefeller Center; took a walking tour through Central Park; and enjoyed the Broadway musical “The Lion King.”
After teaching Samantha for three years at ARHS, Sheppard welcomed the opportunity to share time with her and Cynthia in another setting.
“They'se wonderful to hang out with,” she said. “They'se very down-to-earth people with a great perspective on life.”
They had plenty to discuss while touring the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was exhibiting photographers” work familiar to Samantha as a result of art classes at ARHS.
“She was super psyched to have this awareness of photography that is also being showcased at the Met,” Sheppard said. “We had all this time of looking at photographs together for three years, and now we were able to have great conversations about photographs and putting them in a different context. It was a treat for me to have that kind of time to chat with her.”
For Samantha, it was a chance to appreciate photography before entering freshman year at Framingham State University, where she'sl study early childhood education.
“She had a really positive experience with the contest because we didn's know it was a contest,” Sheppard said. “For her it was something that was just purely joyful, where she was rewarded for doing something that was sincere, honest and incredibly genuine.”