National art award goes to Wellington girl

When David Nichols, Valerie Gillespie’s art teacher at Poudre High School, wanted to submit one of her pastel chalk drawings to a national contest during the last school year, Valerie didn’t want him to. According to her dad, Scott Gillespie, Valerie is quiet and shy and fails to give herself adequate credit for the work she does.

Nichols insisted. Together, he and Valerie came up with a title, “Stop the Connection” for her piece which depicts three figures, one of them Valerie, with a hand extended in the foreground, palm forward as if to say “stay away.”

She explains the rational behind the title. “Hands make us human, they connect us to society or they push us away,” she says, explaining that submissions were judged on artistic skills and the ability of the work to convey a message.

Much to her surprise, Valerie was awarded a gold medal in Colorado and her piece was displayed for a time at the Denver Museum of Art. Then it went to New York and was submitted along with winners from other states and 26 foreign countries, to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.

On the ninth of June, Valerie and her family travelled to New York to participate in a ceremony honoring the national winners held at Carnegie Hall. “It really was a big deal,” Scott said. “I had no idea how big until we participated. Among the winners of this award are people like Stephen King and Andy Warhol.”

Valerie has been sketching and drawing since her days at Eyestone Elementary School and Liberty Commons where she attended middle school. Her art teachers have always encouraged her work. She enjoys working with her hands rather than with a brush as in painting. She often takes photos of her subjects—either figures or objects—and then uses the photos as a reference when she creates either a charcoal or chalk pastel drawing. She describes her art as “semi-realistic. It looks realistic from a distance, but when you get close up and see the details it is less so,” she says.

Neither her parents or younger sister, Kimberly, are artists, but Valerie says the gene exists in her family. Her older sister, Melissa, is studying to be an art teacher, her grandmother and great grandmother were painters and her uncle is a costume designer. Sister Kimberly, 14, is into music and acting.

Valerie took AP art at Poudre as a junior and will take a second session during her senior year where she will put together a portfolio in preparation for submission to college. “I have no idea,” she says when asked where she’d like to go to school but she knows she wants to study art “and something related to art.”

“Stop the Connection” is now hanging the Pratt Manhattan Gallery among the other prize winners and will remain there for five months before embarking on a two-year nationwide tour.

Meanwhile the Gillespie family left for Italy in mid-July to tour the country and visit the home of their exchange student from last year. Surely Valerie will find inspiration for her art as she tours the museums, architecture and countryside.

Chalk drawing by Valerie Gillespie
Chalk drawing by Valerie Gillespie
Charcoal drawing by Valerie Gillespie