Avonians Use Artistic Talents To Give Back To Local Community
Avon Old Farms School’s visual arts department has been thriving under the nurturing leadership of Visual Arts Chairperson Cristina Pinton for many years. Many could point to the long list of awards students and faculty artists receive each year as a testament to Pinton’s guidance and encouragement. But, two Avon boys in particular are a real example of what Pinton strives to imprint upon her students: art is more than paint on a canvas or a camera in your hand; art is a strong force that can be used to better a community.
Avon resident and Avon Old Farms School senior Graham Deckers had the special opportunity to grow up on Avon’s campus as the son of faculty member and alumnus Peter Deckers ’90, associate director of information technology. Since Pinton joined Avon Old Farms in 2012, she says Graham has been a fixture in the art department - long before he was a high school student.
“Graham is a talented, unique artist who applies his skills to any medium he can: jewelry, clay, painting, drawing, etc.,” Pinton shared. “And when he used his passion for art to help a local church with a project, my pride as an educator soared.”
Recently, Graham was recruited to assist Pastor Chris Solimene of the Avon Congregational Church in creating a banner to hang outside the church promoting the congregation’s values of acceptance of all people.
“I know the church recently celebrated its 200th anniversary, and I think Pastor Chris and his community wanted to educate the world that while that church has existed for 200 years, they are not old-fashioned, close-minded, or outdated, they’re modern and accepting of all people, no matter their journey,” explained Graham.
As a senior applying to highly-competitive art schools, Graham admitted that his gut reaction was an anxious one as he thought about finding some sliver of space in his full schedule to work on the project. But then, he stepped back and thought it better to employ a few other resources: the school’s National Arts Honor Society and SPECTRUM Club, of which he is president.
“When I came to Avon Old Farms, I was already well-trained in rendering, coloring, etc. and thought I had learned all the techniques a high school art class could teach me,” shared Graham. “But then Mrs. Pinton asked, ‘That’s great, but what do you have to say?’ That really made me pause, because I didn’t know what I wanted to say, and it took me three years to figure that out. Now, I think more conceptually when I create a piece of art, and that’s what I wanted this project to challenge my club members to do.”
Graham is hoping that by forming a collaboration between these two groups, Avon Old Farms School will create a lively, engaging, and beautiful banner that will let anyone passing by feel a warmth of acceptance emanating from the church community.
Another local artist Dennis Catrini only moved to Avon in 2018, but quickly has immersed himself in the local community.
Dennis moved from London to Avon with his family when his father took a new position with Lane Construction and enrolled at Avon just days before his junior year began. He quickly found that with a camera in his hand on campus, the transition to a new school wasn’t going to be so hard. This winter, Dennis applied for an Advanced Independent Project with photography teacher Carty Campbell to hone his portrait photography skills.
“I had Dennis in my digital photo and then advanced photography classes last year, and saw that he was passionate about his work,” explained Campbell. “In this AIP, I wanted him to dig deep and explore his craft. I challenged him to grow, to learn new techniques, and to explore how to really tell a story through his pictures.”
Previously, Dennis focused on landscape photography, dramatic lighting setups, and graphic design work. He won several awards for his work, but in this new project, he wanted to explore the life of small businesses in Avon. After some discussion with his advisor, he landed on the idea of documenting the life of a local farm. Why farms? “Because they don’t get the attention they deserve,” Dennis said.
“I think farms are the most worth documenting,” he explained. “People don’t appreciate how important they are to our society. When we began researching, I was shocked to learn that there are something like three million farms in the United States. They’re really important. How many students from Avon want to follow an agricultural career? Probably not very many, but that’s posing a real problem.”
After reaching out to several local farms, Dennis connected with Sub Edge Farm, just a short ride from Avon down Town Farm Road.
“On the first day, Mr. Campbell and I went to meet farm owners Rodger and Isabelle and get the lay of the land. We discussed my project goal, which was to document life on the farm while being as non-invasive as possible. I told them to pretend I wasn’t even there. I wanted to learn what happens in this world of theirs, and to do it through photography and share their story with others was even better.”
Dennis visited the farm beginning in December. He documented Christmas tree sales, egg harvesting, cow wrangling, and more. When asked what was the most challenging part of his project, Dennis said it was the human aspect of the job.
“I had never done anything quite like this before, and they hadn’t been in this situation before either, so in the beginning it was an adjustment,” he said. “While I wanted to be in the background, I could tell I was throwing them off. So I began talking to them, asking questions, showing interest in their work, and it wasn’t so strange anymore. I think I struck lucky - they’re pretty open people, and are easy to work with.”
Along the way, Dennis has also been working with Trinity Professor Andrew Wertz, a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, to gather another person’s creative feedback to help direct the project toward a successful resolution.
The end result will be a coffee table photo book Dennis plans to create and gift to Sub Edge Farm. He hopes they might keep a copy in their farm stand so shoppers can flip through the book and see the farm at work, ultimately educating visitors on the importance of small, local farms.
“It’s easy to take one or two nice pictures, but to put together a cohesive project is more challenging,” shared Campbell. “While I have been advising Dennis along the way, I’ve been careful to give him creative space to photograph and edit his work so when he puts together a finished piece, he can be proud of creating it on his own. As a teacher, I want to show him that he has an ability to create meaningful work.”
At Avon, we believe that boys who create grow immeasurably. The lessons boys learn here have the potential to extend into society at large. When they do, we know that our faculty has been successful in developing Men of Avon with character, integrity, and honor.