MHS senior uses art as form of expression

Nathan Domenighini
Virginia Smith, 17, of Morton poses in front of a mural she painted. The mural, about 8-feet-long, hangs on one of Morton High School's hallway walls.

Down the bright-white hollows of the Morton High School halls hangs an 8-foot-long, hand-painted collage.

It does more than hang — the painting breaks the monotonous appearance of a mostly brick wall.

It also does more than just add a colorful mask to the confines of many high schoolers’ home away from home.

For one student, the painting is a reminder to others that everyone is different.

Senior Virginia Smith, 17, said her gigantic mural places a spotlight on the arts.

“I want (students) to see the arts of the school, not just sports,” Smith said. “I want it to be something that brightens their day.”

She said that is what she had in mind when her brush first swiped the canvas.

But, behind that brush and that first stroke was a creative mind full of challenges the average 17-year-old might never experience.

When she was 12, Smith’s parents were in the midst of a custody battle.

“When the custody battle came about, it completely changed my perspective,” she said.

Smith went to school in Peoria, where she said she was never accepted.

“I was made fun of in Peoria,” she said. “It got really bad — to the point that I was the center of attention.”

She said classmates constantly harassed her. Some joked about her family and others about her.

“I had a really bad time with that,” she said.

But, that was not the worst of her concerns at the time, she said.

Also at the age of 12, her grandfather died of cancer.

As Smith reminisced about the past, she repeatedly mentioned her grandfather, Eddie, who was really her step-grandfather.

That does not matter to her, she said.

In a short autobiography she wrote at school, she describes how her relationship with her grandfather began.

“When he was young, he never wanted to hold his children ... he disliked babies. But, when I was a baby, my mom was living with (my grandparents), and had me in a bounce swing while she cleaned. I was just crying my little eyes out and my grandpa was distraught. ‘Aren’t you going to pick her up?’ (he asked). ‘Nope,’ my mother said with a smile and a laugh. ‘Well, if you won’t, I will,’ (he said). And, he picked me up and never let me go. And, from there on out, we were best friends ...” an excerpt from her essay said.

When he died, Smith said life really began to change for her.

“He was my best friend,” she said.

It was then Smith began to give up on school.

“I stopped trying, completely, after grandpa died,” she said.

Life did not improve much for her until she moved to her father’s home in Morton, Smith said.

Today, with her boyfriend and a true passion for art, she said she is happier than ever.

“My dad was always behind me with every interest I have taken — flute, karate, band and art,” she said.

She said she acts exactly like her mother.

“My mom is free-spirited. I tell her everything. She accepts it and understands,” Smith said.

Her mother inspired her to do art. But, Smith is self-taught, she said.

Smith was different than most young girls. She was not the type to sit down and brush her doll’s hair. Instead, “I’d spend hours putting together civilizations with Barbie,” she said.

That out-of-ordinary quality carried into her art and personality.

Smith is an energetic teenager, with a silly, yet intelligent, sense of humor.

Every now and then, she will reference something from one of her videogames or a movie she saw.

Smiles do not escape her face often. If they do, it is only because she is too busy contemplating something funnier.

She was not too shy to crack a joke or two about this reporter, either.

Smith said she knew exactly what to do with her personality.

“So, I started drawing. I have taken every art class, even photography,” she said.

She particularly enjoys drawing bodies, she said. “It’s something I practice.”

Ever since life calmed down for her, art has been a major undertaking.

“It just makes me feel alive,” she said. “There is a feeling of satisfaction (when I’m done). But, then I want to do the next one.”

Smith estimates she has created more than 1,000 pieces of art.

“Each time I look at my artwork, I keep wanting to do more because I know I can do better,” she said.

She currently does paintings and other artwork for her teachers at the high school. She said she also anticipates having some of her work sold at a local shop.

At school, principal Dennis Johnson provides Smith with supplies. He is also the one who gave her the go-ahead for the hallway mural.

“(Johnson) let me put my mural wherever I wanted it,” she said.

For her next hallway project, Smith said she will create an art wheel where other students can place their artwork in a circular collage.

“I want people to get involved with it,” she said. “Everybody has a different style of artwork.”

In her work, Smith said eyes are a recurring theme, just like the one she painted on her mural.

She said the mural at the high school shows students her true values.

“It is something that redeems some of my qualities,” she said. “I want people to see that I’m not just a goofball.”