Marissa Spires recently applied to a prestigious art school in Manhattan, New York, and hopes to be accepted.
No matter what happens, she can add a unique piece to her résumé and portfolio.
She is among 22 Seymour High School art students to have their work published in “Wonders of Muscatatuck” by Nancy Zimmerman. The artwork accompanies stories in the book shared by those who have come to admire all that Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge east of Seymour has to offer.
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The students were recognized Sunday afternoon at the refuge’s visitor center. Also attending were their family members, art teacher Don Brown, some of the 17 storytellers, Zimmerman, refuge staff members and Muscatatuck Wildlife Society volunteers.
The original artwork was on display, each student was presented a copy of the book and attendees could buy a book and have it autographed.
Spires has three drawings in the book — one of a Bigfoot crossing sign, one of a boy wearing goggles while visiting the refuge and one of ducklings.
She used colored pencils for her original composition of the Bigfoot crossing sign, but the other two were done with charcoal while looking at photographs of wildlife at the refuge taken by Dan Kaiser.
“That’s crazy. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s so weird. I can’t really comprehend it,” Spires said of seeing her artwork in a book. “It’s one thing to show your original pieces, but in a book form, it really gives you that credit and credentials. That’s a great entry point because it’s a school corporation thing, but it still puts my name out there a little bit.”
It all started when Linda Sullivan with the Muscatatuck Wildlife Society wanted to have a book about the refuge put together. Her sister introduced her to Zimmerman, who lives in Anderson and has written self-help and children’s books.
Zimmerman told Sullivan she didn’t want to write a book but instead wanted to compose several stories.
“Nancy’s vision led to the idea that we could have the stories that friends of the refuge and volunteers shared,” Sullivan said.
To keep the interest going in children’s stories, Zimmerman said she thought it would be good to get children to draw the pictures, so she developed a young artists’ series.
“This was going to be one of that series, and I had envisioned it having line art that looks very much like a young person would just color that would go with the story,” she said. “At that time, I didn’t even think about gathering stories I gathered. I was thinking more about looking at a list of animals you might see at Muscatatuck, putting together some facts and then having someone — students — draw a picture.”
That all changed when she met Brown.
During a visit to the school, Zimmerman said she noticed students’ artwork in the hallways.
“There was all of the artwork, and I’m going like, ‘High school students are doing this?’” she said. “It’s professional-looking stuff, absolutely amazing.”
By the time she reached Brown’s classroom, Zimmerman said she realized the students have the talent to do line art, but this was a different skill set.
“If you look at the quality of the art you see (in the book), they are very, very detailed,” she said. “Line art is probably close akin to just a beginning sketch, just very simple line art, and that had proven to be a little bit difficult with the illustrators that I had worked with because the more precise and detailed the artist is, the more difficult it is for them to kind of back off and be less detailed because that’s just not their skill set.”
Meanwhile, she was collecting the stories of people’s interactions with animals at the refuge. As she received the stories, she emailed them to Brown so his students could pick one out to depict with their art.
While she initially wanted to have black and white drawings in the book, that changed when she saw the art.
“I can guarantee you this in black and white would be worth putting me in jail for,” Zimmerman said while pointing at a colorful drawing of a sandhill crane by Seymour senior Makenna Fee. “The color on these and the vibrance, you just don’t do something like that with art.”
Some of the drawings were done with colored pencils, while others were done with regular pencils, charcoal or paint.
Either way, Zimmerman said the finished product looks great.
“It’s an amazing tribute to the collaborative effort that Mr. Brown has established with the Muscatatuck Wildlife Society,” she said. “I would like to see the community be able to get behind such a collaborative effort. It can benefit high school art programs and other programs that the high school collaborates with the community on.”
The books can be purchased for $20 in the bookstore inside the refuge’s visitor center with proceeds benefiting the refuge. They also can be bought online at amazon.com.
Sophomore Nevaeh Raisch said the project was a unique opportunity for high school students to have their work published.
She was one of the last students to get involved with the project and was given a picture of a snake taken by Kaiser. She used pencils for the drawing.
“I asked (Brown) about it to be able to get involved in doing it because I was interested, and I thought it would be cool to do something like this,” Raisch said. “I looked off of the picture, and I drew it. Art is more common to me, and it’s just something that I like to do. I find it interesting. Being told what to draw is easier because I’m not really creative.”
Sullivan said she hopes the project encourages the students to visit the refuge.
“From the book, I hope you gain the idea that you’re not going to come out here and have an exceptional story unless you happen to see a bobcat or something,” she told the students. “But it’s just the idea that you can come out here, spend an afternoon and it can be so special to you and make a lasting memory.
“The more I come to the refuge, the more I fall in love with it,” she said. “It’s a good place close to home where you can come out and kind of forget about those tests that are looming ahead and just go for a walk and enjoy being outside. I hope this is not your last visit out here because it’s a wonderful place to explore.”
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Book: “Wonders of Muscatatuck”
Author: Nancy Zimmerman compiled the book, which includes Seymour High School art students’ drawings accompanying stories of 17 people who visit Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge east of Seymour or volunteer
Artists: Tess Allman, Wendolinne Zarate Bailon, Debin Bowman, Makenna Fee, Eva Horton, Julieann Jones, Eveline Kegeris, Emily Kleman, Maria Lara Lopez, Stephanie Lopez, Amanda Massengale, Gustavo Acevedo Ortiz, Zoe Ortlieb, Adison Patton, Madison Pifer, Nevaeh Raisch, Marissa Spires, Brianna Valentine, Yesenia Varela, Belen Garcia Velazquez, Haley Weaver and Elizabeth Wehrkamp
Storytellers: Judy August, Nathan Ault, Judy Borron, Mary Brandt, Ralph Cooley, David Crouch, Bob Freelove, Lynn Freelove, Dan Kaiser, Jean Nichter, Malori Pike, Joan Preloger, Ron Preloger, Donna Stanley, Marilyn Strickland, Linda Sullivan and Sawyer Sullivan
Cost: $20; available at the bookstore in the visitor center at the refuge, 12985 E. U.S. 50, Seymour, with proceeds benefiting the refuge or online at amazon.com