With her intricate designs, confident technique, and interdisciplinary accomplishments, Nantucket High School junior Abby Taaffe has well-earned the distinction of Veritas’ Artist of the Month this May. Both her environment - she speaks fondly of her time at the Lighthouse School before coming to NHS, which was very focused on artistic development - and natural talent have contributed to her love of art and the pieces it produces.
Taaffe has just finished submitting her portfolio to the College Board as part of Advanced Placement Studio Art, a class introduced to NHS in the 2015-16 school by Kate Merlini. The course, earning the classification of the most rigorous art class at NHS, requires students to be independently motivated, with “advanced or exceptional art or design skill and/or talent,” according to the Program of Study. The class culminates in a portfolio of more than 20 pieces of work, expected to “exhibit depth and breadth of artistic subject matter and technique.” Taaffe is so far the only junior to have taken the course, choosing 3D design - specifically, ceramics - to focus on for the duration of the class.
“I have absolutely loved my AP art experience,” said Taaffe. “The class was small but I got along with everyone and we were all inspired by each other, which fueled me to work harder everyday. Mrs. Merlini was the absolute best teacher, and she helped me get my ideas from paper to clay and make the best work I possibly could.”
Of all the varieties of art Taaffe has been exposed to and experienced - drawing, painting, and sculpting - she names ceramics her favorite, and was honored this year for a ceramics piece called “bait ball,” receiving second place in the Artists Association Junior Artist Exhibition. Started by the Schultz family in the 1990s, the awards are presented in collaboration with the Nantucket Arts Council and strive to recognize excellence in high school level art. “I got the idea for [the prize-winning piece] from the ocean,” said Taaffe, “where I commonly pull ideas from.”
Indeed, many of Taaffe’s pieces reflect this source of inspiration; Taaffe discussed the pieces she is proudest of, saying “I think my favorite set of pieces has to be my sea urchins. I love the way that they look and feel. They do not totally represent urchins but they take different elements of an urchin and represent them differently throughout the set of four.”
“Abby had been doing classes at the Artist Association well before she began taking art classes through the high school, but even in this short span of time she has grown creatively and pushed herself outside of her comfort zone,” said Merlini. “I think AP Studio Art really helped her explore her artistic boundaries. I love to watch her go through her creative process; she has incredible focus that is really interesting to watch as she realizes her full potential.”
“Art gives me a place to channel my energy and express myself. I think that in general art helps people whether it is making their own or looking at the work of others,” Taaffe said.
Merlini also noted that other students could learn from Abby that “patience, practice, and focus pays off - Abby’s focus, incredible work ethic, and skill all together makes her work unique.”
Taaffe reflected on her artistic experience, which she summarized saying “art has been a huge part of my life. It is a huge stress relief for me and I love being able to create something when I’ve had a hard day. I have been able to channel who I am through art and have become the person I am because of it."