Philadelphia Sketch club recognizes Furness senior

A Whitman resident will have her artistic work
 honored at a Center-City ceremony. 

By Joseph Myers

Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 21, 2013

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Denise Reyes, who calls on memories of Mexico as inspiration for her work, is the artist behind Furness High School’s most recent honor from the Philadelphia Sketch Club.

Photo by Greg Bezanis

Many artists depend on despondency for inspiration, and though Denise Reyes understands their penchant for relying on despair, she prefers picking positive topics to motivate her right hand. 

Sunday’s visitors to Center City’s Philadelphia Sketch Club will see her insistence on joy, as the 18-year-old senior at Horace Furness High School, 1900 S. Third St., will receive an artistic excellence commendation for a vibrant self-portrait at the 29th annual High School Art Show. The recognition will mark the second-straight year the Pennsport institution has had an honoree and will give the local creator more cause to celebrate life’s levity. 

“I try to make uplifting work,” the resident of the 100 block of Gladstone Street said Friday at her secondary site. “I usually focus on traditions from Mexico and put in cartoon-like elements for fun.”

As her father had already been working in the United States, Reyes, her mother and brother moved from Monterrey, Mexico nearly three years ago and settled in Whitman. With no artistic background or inclination, she soon found her lessons at Furness enthralling, with teacher Meredith McDonald encouraging each stroke.

“I have learned almost everything I know from her,” Reyes said of interactions with her advanced placement art instructor, who will attend the ceremony with her. “She is very patient and supportive.”

The Queen Village inhabitant submitted five students’ creations for consideration by the 152-year-old club, seeing sound technical skill as a boon for Reyes. She told her pupil of her selection earlier this month, with the teenager experiencing shock.

“I said, ‘Really, me? Are you sure it’s me?’” Reyes said. “I just think so many people are better than I am that I’m still amazed.”

The astonished student had not placed much stock in being receptive to art tutelage, figuring it simply would serve as a graduation requirement. When the young artist began to show aptitude, however, she doubled her discipline within the discipline and came to claim painting as her favorite way to convey her identity.

“I like the freedom that comes with being an artist,” Reyes, whose current concentration focuses on landscapes of her hometown, said. “It feels good to be able to go from a sketch to a full work, too.”

With allegiance to perseverance as a guide, she has constructed approximately 20 pieces, calling on acrylics, chalks and pastels to present her happy hues. Her friends and relatives have provided great feedback, with the latter, including a cousin whose graffiti art prowess she counts as an influence, especially impressed. 

“Everyone is so proud, more so than me because I’m still surprised and probably will continue to be that way even when I go to the event,” Reyes said.

Though her lineage has offered kudos, she has yet to work on her craft within her home, making Furness her primary haven. Along with helping her to acquire the Sketch Club accolade, the facility placed her in contact with Bella Vista artist Michelle Ortiz, who last year recruited assistants for a mural on adolescent immigrants’ perspectives on forming new lives.

“She came here for a workshop, and I loved that she wanted to involve me in her project,” Reyes said of the resident of 10th Street and Washington Avenue, who has received numerous plaudits for her mixed-media talent and has worked in, among many locations, Argentina, Mexico and Spain.

Blessed with her first big chance to show her abilities, the young women joined eight area students last summer for discussions on immigration and the formation of “Aquí y Allá,” translated as “Here and There,” at 1515 S. Sixth St. Though her contribution proved crucial, Reyes never experienced any trepidation.

“No pressure at all,” she said of her six-week assignment. “Everyone was so happy to work on it, especially me because it made me more interested in learning about my culture and other ones, too.”

With that attitude, Reyes could come to serve as a spokeswoman for Furness, as it perfectly matches the mindset that first-year principal Daniel Peou is looking to instill in his 552 learners.

“This news is a great fit for what we are trying to do here, which is to expose our student body to as much culture as possible inside and outside of our walls,” the leader, who as a Cambodian refugee attended Furness when it was a junior high school, said. “For Denise, this is connecting her to the art world and bringing pride to her and her family.”

Peou cited her selection; student participation in The Sustainability Workshop at The Navy Yard Quarters A, 1413 Langley Ave., which advocates for energy-efficient approaches to everyday life; and Furness enrollees’ taking classes at Center City’s Community College of Philadelphia as key components to furthering appreciation of what his group could achieve.

“I do feel happy to represent Furness because it has given me courage to test my creativity,” Reyes said.

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