Pushing limits gets teen sculptor national recognition

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PLEASANTON, Kan. -- A couple of weeks ago, Sargent Art, an art supplies company that strongly supports art education in the U.S. brought 72 teenagers to New York City for an all-expenses-paid experience and recognized them as America's finest young high school art students for 2013. This week's FOX 4 Young Achiever was the honoree from Kansas. And when you see his work, you'll understand why.

At an elegant old table surrounded by some of his past creations, a young sculptor begins a new project. And miraculously, intriguing parts of metal and old lamps and other found objects begin to take shape, repurposed in a marvelous way.

"You have a whole bunch of pieces," said FOX 4 Young Achiever Sky Johnston, "and you kind of lay them out and just start fitting things together and see how it works and figure out how it would actually work in real life and if it would actually fly or actually drive or swim or anything like that."

This is Sky Johnston's genius. Influenced by his childhood in the African nation of Namibia and his love of outer space and dinosaurs, Sky crafts fun, fantastical and whimsical works that arise from his powerful imagination, like using parts from old clocks and a music box and a lot of other strange pieces to make.

"It's a Steampunk (science finction sub-genre) inspired artwork," said Sky, "and for me this is kind of my interpretation of me kind of building a spacecraft."

"At first, you see (Sky's artwork) and you're like, 'Wow, I've never see that.'" said Joe Summers, Sky's art teacher at Prairie View High School in nearby La Cygne, Ks. "And then there's more to see. More to think about. That's what makes it truly great artwork."

Sky was Summers' star student the past three years. Summers encouraged Sky to take up art after a serious injury put an end to Sky playing football. Art contests filled Sky's need for competition and he quickly developed his unique style sculpting.

"The thing I love about Sky's work is that it's not just good high school artwork, it's good artwork," said Summers. "It's great artwork. And I could see it at any gallery or art show. Sky's is not like any other high school artwork. His is creative. And it's different. And you've never seen it. Not even in professional work, you don't see it."

For a guy who didn't get into art in a major way until his sophomore year of high school, Sky's done very well for himself.

"I mean, It's awesome," said Sky of the high-level recognition he's received this past school year. "Makes me realize I'm doing the right thing and that I'm going in the right direction."

It's a direction that had Sky winning some of the biggest prizes for high school art in Kansas. Best of Show awards at eight big art shows. A regional Gold key in Scholastic, the prestigious art and writing contest for high school students across America. The statewide Youth Art Month (YAM) contest grand prize. And going to New York City this summer as a guest of the YAM sponsor, the Sargent Art company, to be honored as one of America's finest high school visual art students.

"At first I was just trying to make things pretty and realistic and there was no thought about it," said Sky. "But recently I've been putting thought into it and trying to make it mean something to other people. And that's what artwork is all about, is making people interested and wondering what's going on there. It really provokes a lot of thought in their own minds. That's what I love. I really do." That's Sky. Pushing the limits.

Wichita State University and seven other colleges and universities offered Sky scholarships to get him to come and study art with them. He's chosen to get started at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, KS and then go to the University of Kansas to pursue his art career dreams.

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 Monday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m., every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 5 p.m.

Phil Witt, Fox 4 News

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