In the center of downtown, right on Broadway, sits a striking edifice. Its stone structure resembles an ancient castle and, with a history nearly a century long, has become a Nashville landmark. However, this building is most known to the approximately 900 students that roam its halls every day as Hume-Fogg.
Hume-Fogg became the city’s first public school when it was established as a vocational school in 1912. In 1983, the school changed gears and transformed into Nashville’s first Academic Magnet, with a focus on the liberal arts. Hume-Fogg’s academics are unparalleled within Tennessee and have gained national recognition, including being ranked twenty-eighth best high school in the country by Newsweek magazine.
Nonetheless, Hume-Fogg has excelled beyond the world of academia. On the first floor of this four-story building, there is a large and expansive room with walls plastered with student artwork dating back decades and supplies and materials stacked high into massive towers. In the center of the room, there is always the same woman shouting instructions like “access the right side of your brain!” “push the color!” and “draw what you see!”
At Hume-Fogg, the visual arts program, headed by veteran teacher Mrs. Pamela Bergman, has become one of the school’s many strengths, due equally in part to the program’s talented teacher, the school’s artistically inclined students, and the creative milieu. The art program has become an important part of many students’ lives, including seniors and Advanced Placement (AP) art students Sophie Diehl, Mika Agari, and Alina Malinauskaite.
“I think of art like eating. I don’t feel right unless I’m doing something creative,” says Sophie Diehl. For Diehl, creating has always been a natural and organic experience, as commonplace for her as breathing.
Diehl recalls that one of her earliest memories of art occurred long before she could read or write. She would illustrate the images and have her father transcribe the story for her to create a picture book.
This innate affinity for art has stayed with her into maturity, and she is currently in her second year of Advanced Placement art. Last year, she worked on a drawing portfolio with a concentration inspired by childhood memories. This year, she is working on a 2D design portfolio. While she hasn’t officially declared her concentration yet, she notes that several of her new pieces have been portraits with realistic faces and surrealistic elements in the background, a style she says conveys the way that others view that person and the way that person views him or herself.
Her school and classmates have been a great influence for Diehl. “The kids all work really hard, no matter what the subject is,” says Diehl, “so whether it’s math or art, they’re still devoting their entire mind to it.” This culture and standard of taking work seriously gives Diehl an added drive to put all she has into every creative effort. “The kids who are really involved in the art program develop a sort of camaraderie…based on the fact that we’re all in art together.”
Diehl’s support extends beyond the classroom into her home, where she says she is truly thankful to have a supportive and inspiring family. “There’s an environment in my house that encourages individuality,” says Diehl, who admits that she descends from a line of “pleasantly quirky people.”
Diehl practices other forms of expression outside of school. She has been playing the piano for nearly ten years and heads her independent clothing line Io, which she recently began selling at a store called Local Honey. She also takes classes from local artist Ray Stevenson, whose thoughts on the methods of art have particularly struck a chord with Diehl. “The process of painting is basically like you’re trying to fix something,” she says. “You just keep fixing and fixing until finally you reach the moment when you’re like, ‘Hey, it’s fixed.’”
In the future, Diehl has aspirations to become an environmental engineer. This profession, she says, would combine her need to create spatially, think logically, and help the environment harmoniously.
If you asked a seven-year-old Mika Agari what she wanted to be when she grew up, you would get a variety of responses ranging from poet, astronaut, teacher, lawyer, doctor, ballerina, and artist. Almost a decade later, Agari’s wide range of interests hasn’t waned.
“I have a few…well, a lot of ideas,” she says. A number of these ideas, she says, are inspired by her biracial background. “The fact that my dad is Japanese and my mom is American and the merging of cultures is a really interesting thing to try and portray.”
For example, one of Agari’s favorite pieces is one she did of her younger brother Yoshi. She used a red, white, and blue motif, which mimics the national colors of the United States and Japan. She drew from each country’s flag by putting a star pattern in his hair and circles in the background to represent the contrast and fusion of her family’s cultures.
As a junior, Agari worked on a drawing portfolio with a focus on her family members. Currently, she is toiling on a 2D design portfolio with a concentration she describes as “portraits from life.” People and movement have always been Agari’s subjects of choice. “I feel you can see [people’s] personalities through the way they sit or their expressions every day.” These seemingly commonplace things, she says, are revealing of people’s individual personas.
While she traces back her inspiration to her father’s Japanese background, Agari says that it was her mother that first influenced her to pursue art. Agari remembers admiring “these awesome, crazy doodle things” that her mother would draw. When she was young, she would work to imitate those doodles.
Since, Agari has worked to develop her own style and voice. She says that her talent comes as much from practice and discipline as it does from natural ability. “I never stopped drawing, and other people did, because they came to a point where they had to practice to get better.”
As for her plans later in life, she has toyed with the idea of writing children’s books and illustrating them herself. Still, Agari hasn’t ruled anything out. Perhaps she will become all of the different occupations she dreamed of as a little girl. “But I’ll always have [art],” she says, “no matter what I choose to do.”
When Alina Malinauskaite and her parents immigrated to the United States from Lithuania, they had fantasies of the land of opportunity and the American dream dancing in their minds. “[My parents] wanted to come here and give their family the things they never had,” she says, “and give their kids more opportunity to grow up and do something profound in life.”
Malinauskaite is a first-year AP art student and is working on a 2D portfolio. She describes her concentration as her view of Lithuania as she grows older. “My family and everyone are always changing, so I’m documenting that change from my early years to now.” Although Malinauskaite has lived the majority of her life in the United States, she strongly identifies with her Eastern European heritage and even speaks five languages fluently—English, French, Lithuanian, Russian, and Polish.
Malinauskaite says that she is especially inspired to create art with different or unusual mediums and subjects, especially to convey or represent a larger social or introspective idea. For example, when given a class assignment to paint a reflection, Malinauskaite was most inspired to recreate the inside of her refrigerator. “It was personal and weird,” she says. The painting shows her own reflection in a large pot surrounded by the foods that line her refrigerator.
Malinauskaite’s extracurricular activities are numerous and widespread. She has been actively participating in gymnastics for eight years and has competed to level eight of ten levels. She no longer competes but now coaches younger gymnasts. She is also a Hume-Fogg cheerleader and a member of the National Honor Society.
Taking advantage of her exposure to different cultures of the world, Malinauskaite has ambitions to become a United Nations ambassador. This year she is participating in the Model United Nations, where she represents the African country Namibia.
Like so many others, Malinauskaite is grateful to be able to attend a school like Hume-Fogg. “When you go here, you find your niche. You figure out what you like to do, and it’s really encouraged,” she says. “We have so many talented individuals, and everyone is encouraged by each other to pursue different activities.”
The metropolitan location of her school is another added plus for Malinauskaite. “We get to experience Nashville as tourists would like to experience it every single day.”
Lindsey Victoria Thompson is a junior at Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet, where she is studying the literary arts with aspirations to pursue a career in writing. She is currently Assistant Editor for the school newspaper, The Knightly News, and is proud to spotlight her school and peers in this feature piece.
by Lindsey V. Thompson