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Teen artist draws acclaim for works

July 12, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- If anyone doubted that Maggie Sullivan was destined to be an artist, those doubts would have been quashed when, at the age of 6, she received her first commission.

Rummaging through the pile of sketchbooks and drawings strewn across her bed, Maggie, now 13, grins as she pulls out a copy of the Christmas card her neighbors asked her to draw for them half a lifetime ago. The picture on the front is a neat pencil sketch of the neighbors' house in the snow.

Maggie's artwork has drawn acclaim from a wider audience in recent months, when the "Litter Bug" butterfly sculpture she created out of soda cans for the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts' Take Flight Project was voted runner-up for the People's Choice Award presented at a June 20 gala.

Maggie said she was inspired to create a butterfly out of something random and unexpected after seeing a sculpture of a heart made out of household appliances. She enlisted her school's help in collecting the more than 700 cans she used for the butterfly, then put in long hours in the final weeks cleaning the sticky cans and sorting them by color.

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The project's biggest irony?

"We don't really drink soda in my house," Maggie laughed. "But those few months, we had so much soda. I had to brush my teeth a lot."

Maggie was also the creator of the pebble mosaic-framed mirror that won best miscellaneous media in a Herald-Mail student art contest in April.

Mosaics aren't the only type of art Maggie enjoys, she said. A gallery of recent creations on her bedroom wall includes a watercolor painting, a cartoon and a rack of homemade jewelry, and the room is filled with creations like clay pots, woven embroidery floss bracelets and a sculpture of tall, abstract human forms made from sticks plastered with hardened strips of white fabric.

"I really just enjoy all of it," she said.

Maggie remembers growing up with a crayon in her hand, relishing summer art camps and staying after in her elementary school art class to work on special projects with her teacher.

Sadly, she said, her participation in a language magnet program has prevented her from taking art classes at Boonsboro Middle School, where she will start eighth grade in the fall.

She compensates for the lack of art class at school with art camps, independent projects created for contests and inspiration from artistic relatives, including an aunt and uncle who work for the Smithsonian Institution and an aunt who teaches art at a middle school in Ohio.

For high school, Maggie plans to apply to the Barbara Ingram school, though going there could mean a difficult compromise. Her other hobbies include playing the oboe and participating in lacrosse, volleyball and track, and she worries that the arts magnet school's late school day would exclude her from playing high school sports.

She knows she wants to turn art into a career, and after considering cartooning and architecture, her current ambition is to become a postage stamp designer.

Like most of her art, Maggie's stamp designs would probably hold special meaning just to her, she said.

For example, she said, the watercolor painting of jellyfish on her wall is a reminder of the day last summer when she and her friends were stung by jellyfish while swimming in the Chesapeake Bay, and ended up laughing and screaming and throwing the stinging blobs at each other.

Despite the personal meanings in her creations, Maggie said she feels strongly about the universality of art.

"I think it's a way that everyone across the whole world can understand each other," she said.

When her friends complain that they are terrible at drawing, Maggie encourages them to give art a try anyway.

"I don't know why everybody thinks it's just drawing because it's about creativity and imagination and putting yourself on a piece of paper however you want to," she said.

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