SWANTON – Missiquoi Valley Union High School (MVU) recently adopted a chapter of the National Art Honor Society (NAHS), officially inducting members during a special ceremony last week.

The idea for a chapter at MVU came from art teacher Lindsay DiDio’s experience with the society as a student teacher in Pennsylvania.

“We thought that we had a group of students that would be interested and be active in doing it,” DiDio said. She and art teacher Carole Benoit put “feelers” out to test the students’ interest level before going “gung ho.”

“Fourteen or 15 people showed up the first day,” DiDio said. Some were freshman or sophomores who were not eligible to join but that left the teachers hopeful for next year, with 10 seniors graduating in May.

“I think I joined because I love art and I wanted to do more than just going to art class and the musical,” Sammi Freeman, a sophomore, said.

“The NAHS really gives you a lot of opportunities to do art in your community and not just in your school,” senior student Olivia McGovern said.

“With the arts society, at least for me, I think it’s a great opportunity to see different styles and different types of art that everyone is interested in,” Mikaela Magnant, a senior, said, “like music and photography because I have not really branched out to those.”

In order to be inducted into the MVU chapter of NAHS, a student must be enrolled in grades 10, 11, or 12, have completed one year of art in the past and be currently enrolled in an art class.

The term ‘art class’ includes but is not limited to band, chorus, fine art and film. A student must maintain a B average to be eligible and complete 20 hours of art-based community service.

“They have a constitution; they have bylaws,” DiDio explained. “It’s the typical honors society but its art based.”

Officers include junior Madeleine Gates as president, Magnant as vice president, senior Lindsay Kilbury as treasurer and senior Hannah McMahon, secretary.

“It gives the kids a sense of responsibility,” Didio said. “Even though Carole and I attend the meetings, we try and stand back as much as possible. We try and guide instead of direct the conversation.”

Members can vote on decisions including who should be their guest speaker at the induction ceremony. Eros Hoagland, a documentary filmmaker and photographer of Essex, won the honors.

“I think it was great to hear that you could take art and make it a career in your life,” Magnant said. “And that you can be successful going into it, if that’s what you’re passionate about.”

“I really enjoy fine art,” McGovern said, “but I also want to go into advertising. I like how art can relate in advertising. It’s all around us.”

McGovern expressed her excitement over NAHS’s partnership with the Swanton Arts Council (SAC) and how it offers numerous advertising opportunities.

SAC also is collaborating with the society to create an emerging artist award for senior students who want to pursue art beyond high school. The seniors have to submit an application and three works of art that represent their esthetic.

The receipt of the award will earn some form of monetary compensation at the end of the year.

Community service

NAHS has a community service component, requiring 20 hours of art-based service for each member.

“It’s not just clean up a park,” DiDio said. “It’s go and beautify the park in an art based way.”

“I personally hope it gives them opportunities to share their talents and connect it with a purpose,” she said. “Art doesn’t always have to be ‘Oh, that’s a pretty picture,’ and you hang it on the wall and you appreciate it. There’s a lot of philanthropies and community-based service that can come out of art making.”

The first community-based project came in the way of knitting baby hats.

“Although it’s not a fine art, it’s not a painting or a drawing, it’s a craft,” she said. “But that is a skill that they now know that they can take with them beyond this classroom.”

In total, the society donated around 25 knitted baby hats to the birthing center at Northwestern Medical Center.

“It was really sweet and they had a lot of fun doing it,” DiDio said.

“And they knew it was going to a good cause,” Benoit chimed in. “It was meaningful that their art, their creations would benefit others. That’s why I like the community service portion of it.”

Bitter losses

“One of our seniors who’s in the National Art Honors Society … he’s awesome,” DiDio said. “I think he’s Neil Patrick Harris in training.”

“He’s doing an independent study with me and Eros is his mentor,” she said of Sam Caswell.

Hoagland, who spoke at the induction ceremony, helps Caswell with his senior project, short film called “Bitter Losses.”

“It’s kind of a thriller about a card game,” Caswell said. “People who need organs but are too low on the waiting list go and play a poker game. If they win, they get an organ. If they lose, their body is scrapped for parts.”

The lead character in the film needs a new heart for her daughter. When she wins the poker game, the organ is harvested from one of the other poker players.

“Its kind of a dark theme,” Caswell said with a laugh.

“I like the idea of a dark tone to my films that have some sort of suspense to them,” Caswell said. “I think I connect the most to Christopher Nolan’s kind of style, where everything is grounded in reality.”

“He tries to use as practical effects as possible,” he explained. “He hates CGI. He wants to make everything feel as real as possible and it all kind of has a grayish tone of, ‘This is the real world.’”

Caswell is wrapping up the final rewrites of his screenplay and scheduling. Locations were scouted, the cast is complete and props have been bought. He plans on beginning shooting in February.

“If it comes out the way I want it to, I’m hoping to send it out to several different colleges and small studios just to kind of get my name out there and see if anyone likes what I’m doing,” he said.

“I’m really interested in going into the film industry and having Eros there, he’s worked on both sides of it,” Caswell said. “He’s been a low budget camera man, going around the world taking pictures for National Geographic and then he recently took photos on set for the movie ‘The Revenant.’”

“The Revenant,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is nominated for 12 Oscars.

“It makes me hopeful that if I’m meeting this guy now and he lives in Vermont,” Caswell said, “that I hopefully can make it in the film industry as well.”