Persistence pays off for teen artist

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LA CYGNE, Kan. -- No matter what form it takes, art is very subjective. What one person may rave about another may pan. So one of the most valuable qualities an artist can have is persistence -- to steadfastly press on and create even though judges may not always prize their work.

Persistence has paid off big for an area art student who is this week's FOX 4 Reaching 4 Excellence young achiever.

As he begins a new project in the art room at Prairie View High School, senior Sam Engert sits in front of an array of his prized works. There are some beautiful ceramics and a number of fascinating sculptures, including a self-portrait and other curious creations, some made of found objects and looking like machines that could start-up and move at any moment.

"Most of my work, I do a theme called "Steam Punk" which involves a lot of gears," said Sam. "It's the idea that everything is run off of steam power mainly. And it's based around the Victorian Era."

Sam is also an outstanding student in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) with plans to major in computer science in college. And his art definitely takes on engineering forms and expression.

"I like the mechanical aspect of it," said Sam. "How you start with one piece and put it together and it doesn't look right because it wouldn't work so you kind of have to find the balance of what would maybe work but also look good as an artwork."

"Sam is a very smart artist, a very smart person," said  Joe Summers, Sam's art teacher at Prairie View High. "And his artwork is just very intelligent and thoughtful. And above all it has content. It's about something. And it makes you look at it. And you wonder what's going on. What is this about? Artwork like something Leonardo Da Vinci would have sketched or it looks like something from outer space."

For a guy who didn't really start studying art and creating sculpture until his freshman year in high school, Sam has had remarkable success. And he's really raked in the honors and awards at art shows big and small the past couple of years. And yet, because Sam's sculptures are so unconventional, he hasn't done well with them in every art show. But he scored best of show in one of the most important of all.

"And it won Youth Art Month," says Sam with a big satisfied smile. Sam's sculpture of a human hand holding the Earth with other planets suspended around it and gears coming up the arm earned him the grand prize in the Kansas Youth Art Month (YAM) show put on by the Kansas Art Education Association and sponsored by Sargent Art, an art supplies company. Instantly Sam took his place among America's finest high school visual art students for 2014.

"I'm proud of Sam because he didn't give up," said Summers. "He kept trying. He doesn't get upset, he doesn't get discouraged when he didn't win a show. And then he goes to this, the biggest show, the most important show, the biggest reward, the biggest prize, and he wins it."

"It really shows how creative I can be," said Sam. "Maybe how far I can take that with just about anything." With persistence in all of it.

This summer Sargent Art will host Sam and other state champions in New York City for an all-expenses-paid experience. Remarkably, this is the second year in a row that one of Joe Summers' students at Prairie View, a small town and rural high school south of the Kansas City metro area, has won the grand prize in Kansas Youth Art Month.

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism.

Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.

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