9 Utah students give their take on COVID-19 through art

Brooklynn Black misses her friends at Centennial Junior High and the structure of school. But she’s enjoyed the time she’s had to create and to enjoy a new puppy.

When she heard the Springville Museum of Art wanted Utah K-12 students to submit works that reflect their pandemic experiences, she was ready.

“I wanted to make a painting that kind of just punches you in the gut,” Brooklynn said. “It’s about all the pains and hardships that have come from COVID-19, but also all the beauty and bonds that have formed from it.”

Brooklynn’s piece is one of hundreds that have been submitted to the “Up Close and Far Away” online exhibition, which was created by the museum to replace the outreach programs it had been offering in schools.

“The response has been amazing and overwhelming,” said Leslie Makai Gleaves, senior educator for Springville Museum of Art. “The change in their daily lives was a shock to them, and the way they’re processing it showed a wide range of emotions, all the way from being upset to just enjoying the time with their families.”

Meet nine young artists who have contributed to the exhibit.

(Courtesy of Elizabeth Valentine) Olivia Valentine created "Fun Inside (and Out)" for the Springfield Museum of Art's Up Close & Far Away exhibition. (Courtesy of Danielle Nelson) Sophia Nelson created "Locked In" for the Springfield Museum of Art's Up Close & Far Away exhibition.

‘Fun Inside (and Out)’

Olivia Valentine, Spanish Fork; Grade 2, home school

Olivia Valentine said she made a pillow because “I love pillows. They’re so cute!” Her creation is about the fun she has playing inside and outdoors, so she embroidered a tree, a book, a music note, a Wii controller and a Harry Potter scar.

“I was bored and wanted something to do, and it was a symbol of what I’ve been doing during the quarantine,” she said. “Like why I can’t go play with friends and stuff.”

One of her favorite parts of quarantine: She attended a friend’s birthday party via Zoom, after activities and gift bags were hand-delivered to her friend’s house before the celebration began.

‘Locked In’

Sophia Nelson, Stansbury; Grade 6, Stansbury Park Elementary

With violin practices, field trips, tumbling class, Disneyland and her school all closing down in rapid succession, Sophia Nelson initially struggled adjusting to her new routine.

“One night I was sitting in bed when everything hit me, and I cried myself to sleep,” Sophia said. “I told my mom the next day because everything hit me so hard. It was very painful.”

Her artwork shows a girl facedown on the floor, surrounded by images of places she cannot go.

“Sophia, my 5-year-old and I have all had our various meltdowns,” said Sophia’s mother, Danielle Nelson. “I think that’s why her picture speaks to so many people. We’ve all been that girl stuck in a room looking at the world through computer screens.”

Since then, Sophia has found happiness in taking dance classes via Zoom and finding unique ways to safely stay in touch with her friends. “We’ll stand on opposite street corners, or walk down the opposite side of the streets and yell across,” she said. “It’s pretty fun.”

She has mixed feelings about beginning junior high school this fall, because of COVID-19 and the potential “drama” of attending a new school. She was looking forward to taking a choir class, but figures she may have to take Spanish instead — if fears of spreading the virus through singing mean choir classes are canceled.

(Courtesy of Shannon Payne) Nico Payne created "Little Ladybug" for the Springfield Museum of Art's Up Close & Far Away exhibition. (Courtesy of Casey Moore-Harris) Charisma Moore-Harris created "What is Sanity?" for the Springfield Museum of Art's Up Close & Far Away exhibition.

‘Little Ladybug’

Nico Payne, Pleasant Grove; Grade 6, Cedar Ridge Elementary

Inspired after seeing a ladybug at a park, Nico Payne focused her drawing on bringing the simple beauty of the outdoors inside. And that’s part of her advice for coping with the pandemic.

“Stay positive and be active. If you’re just stuffed up indoors all the time, then you’re going to get more grumpy,” she said. “Also, make sure you get enough sleep, because I’ve not been getting enough sleep, and I’ve been very grumpy lately.”

But spending more time inside has reinforced her passion for art; she’s decided she wants to be an art historian when she grows up. She is a self-taught embroidery artist and is currently working on a quilt for her niece.

“I’ve taken more time to work on my art a lot more and practice the things I’m not very good at,” she said, “so staying indoors has helped my art a lot.”

‘What is Sanity?’

Charisma Moore-Harris, West Jordan; Grade 9, Academy of Math Engineering and Science

Charisma Moore-Harris wanted to show how COVID-19 has added stress to her life.

“It felt like an overload of emotions where all you want to do is cry or clench your fists,” she said. “I thought drawing someone covering their face and looking stressed would show how I’m feeling, too.”

The piece was drawn entirely on her iPhone 7. Her parents have since bought her an iPad Pro after seeing her capabilities on a small screen.

Charisma wanted to run a tattoo parlor someday, but COVID-19 has made her reconsider. She’s become interested in animation, but has not settled on a career.

“Now I can’t really make plans too far in the future,” she said. “I usually like to think a year ahead, but now I’m thinking about what I can do tomorrow or next week. It has to be broken down into smaller increments of time.”

When she was named to Cottonwood High School’s dance company this spring, Charisma was elated, but now she wonders whether she’ll be able perform in the fall.

“You never know what to expect. All you can do is keep a positive attitude that things will get better.”

(Courtesy of Paul Black) "The Love and Pain We All Feel" was created by Brooklynn Black for the Springfield Museum of Art's Up Close & Far Away exhibition. (Courtesy of Leslie Makai Gleaves) Halle Gleaves created "Coconut Connection" for the Springfield Museum of Art's Up Close & Far Away exhibition.

‘The Love and Pain We All Feel’

Brooklynn Black, Farmington; Grade 9, Centennial Jr. High

Brooklynn’s painting is rich in symbolism. The man in front of the world represents everyone praying for relief, she said. The hearts inside him represent the love and support that we are surrounded by.

The flowers symbolize the beauty that can come from something painful and difficult, she said; the dots of the spreading coronavirus resemble drops of blood, for all those who have died fighting it.

Brooklynn had started painting as a New Year’s resolution, and now it has become an outlet for her, said her father, Paul Black.

“It’s hard for a lot of people, especially teenagers, to express what they’re feeling through words,” he said. “But she really dove into art and has created a lot during this time, not only by herself, but with her friends over Zoom and with her mom.”

Brooklynn, who will attend Farmington High School in the fall, said she’s enjoyed having time to explore her hobbies.

“We’re all in this together,” she said.”I know that’s been said a lot, but if we bond as a community, we’ll be unstoppable once this over.”

‘Coconut Connection’

Halle Gleaves, Lehi; Grade 10, Skyridge High School

Halle Gleaves drew upon her Polynesian heritage for inspiration — her painting references the concept of “the coconut phone,” a cultural reference to the intuitive connection islanders have with their families.

“During this time we’re all doing our own thing, so it’s almost like we’re on our own separate islands,” she said, “but we can still connect with each other by calling and other things.”

Halle, whose mother, Leslie Gleaves, is the senior educator for Springville Museum of Art, said the hardest part of social distancing has been the separation from her cousins.

When Utah County eased restrictions on distancing and moved to a lower, “yellow” risk level, she rejoiced at the chance to catch up with them in person.

She’s nervous about returning to school in the fall, but takes comfort in her family.

“It’s important to connect with your family,” she said. “Try to connect as much as you can because they can help a lot to deal with this unusual situation.”

(Courtesy of Alison Brown) Cody Brown created "The Fear Within" for the Springfield Museum of Art's Up Close & Far Away exhibition. (Courtesy of Kimi Sorensen) Emiko Sorensen created "A Plea From the Darkness" for the Springfield Museum of Art's Up Close & Far Away exhibition.

‘The Fear Within’

Cody Brown, Layton; Grade 11, Layton High School

Cody Brown said he wanted to convey the broad impact that COVID-19 has had on the world — but personify it in a human form.

And the chaos extends outside that form, representing how the virus has spread into all aspects of life. Bats, empty streets, masks and other symbols show how life has changed.

Still, the character stares forward, symbolizing Cody’s view that there’s hope for the future.

“We have to keep moving on and hanging on to hope. Things will get better and if you look on the positive side, you’ll be happier,” he said. “… You need to look for opportunities and hone your skills so that if something like this does happen again, you’ll be prepared for it.”

Not being able to see his teachers in person and get feedback on his classwork has challenged him, he said, but he feels he’s become more self-reliant as a student through the experience.

‘A Plea From the Darkness’

Emiko Sorensen, West Valley City; Grade 12, Hunter High School

Emiko Sorensen’s passion for art began when she joined her school’s yearbook staff as a photographer. She loved the assignment and began painting two years ago.

Her work expresses the dark feelings she had when COVID-19 first hit.

But she’s used service since then to maintain a positive outlook. She and her sisters have been delivering “heart attacks” — decorating nearby front doors with paper hearts — to bring a happy energy to their neighborhood.

The heart attacks started a chain reaction, with pictures of heart-covered doors surfacing on the neighborhood’s Facebook page.

“I wanted to make the best of it,” she said, “and I’ve learned along the way that all you can do is fight to make the best of your circumstances.”

Emiko will attend Salt Lake Community College in the fall, and hopes to pursue a degree in early childhood education.

“I’m nervous about the future, but at the same time, I’m excited to move on and see what’s next for me,” she said. “It’s important to keep an open mind and realize that this is only one small part of your life. Making a big deal of it isn’t going to help you down the road.”

(Courtesy of Judea Runs Through) Naji Runs Through created "And So I'll Wait" for the Springfield Museum of Art's Up Close & Far Away exhibition.

'And So I’ll Wait’

Naji Runs Through, St. George; Grade 12, Tuacahn High School

Naji Runs Through created his 3D project to represent how his hair has taken on a new meaning during social distancing.

“I’m male-presenting, and I’ve had long hair for a long time now, so it’s always been a form for me to express myself and represent my culture,” he said. “… In the native culture, hair can mean so many things, like it can represent your knowledge, but I see it as though my spirit is being pushed out of my head.”

Finding inspiration initially proved difficult, he said, because he was stuck at home and not seeing the beauty of Tuacahn Canyon each day at school. Then the changing length of his hair caught his attention.

“Hair growth is seen as a passage of time,” he said, “so the idea of sitting on a couch, finding a source of entertainment and having the only representation of time passing by being your hair growth was really interesting to me.”

Naji considered cutting his 32-inch locks during quarantine, but was cautioned against it by his family members. He’s grateful for that advice and for how their relationships have grown stronger since their social distancing began.

He will attend Dixie State University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in art this fall. He said he’s excited for the next phase in his life, but feels nervous about potentially having to attend college in an online format.

Naji’s parents divorced when he was 4, he said, so he feels used to uncertainty.

“If anything, this pandemic has made me figure out a better way to navigate life,” he said. “These tragedies come into our lives not only to hurt us, but also to make us stronger.”