Scott McNeill, “Bas-relief artist brings talent into middle school classroom,” AZ Republic 2005





Bas-relief artist brings talent into middle school classroom

The Arizona Republic

by Oriana Parker 

Special for The Arizona Republic

March 30, 2005

Surprise artist Scott McNeill is an expert in a demanding and difficult art: bas-relief wood sculpture.

And for two weeks in February, students at Borman Middle School got to experience McNeill's craft firsthand.

McNeill learned the wood sculpture technique in Honduras, where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1992 to 1994. Recognizing that the young American had the gift, one of the country's most renowned woodcarving masters invited him to become an apprentice. For almost three years, McNeill worked side by side with 20 of the country's finest wood sculptors.

The hard work paid off. McNeill's work has been exhibited throughout the Valley. In 2001, McNeill, who has received many grants, was awarded the national prize for the most outstanding bas-relief from New York City's National Sculpture Society.

Bas-relief involves placing a larger painting on top of a carving, yielding two images.

The idea to have him join a school as an artist-in-residence was conceived in 2002-03. That was when the West Valley Art Museum showcased the artist's unique, multidimensional works in a one-man show titled "More than Meets the Eye."

It was when Barbara Townsley, art teacher at Borman Middle School, discovered the artist she wanted to teach her advanced eighth-grade art class.

"When I first saw Scott's works at the West Valley Art Museum, I keep coming back and saw something new each time," Townsley said. "He is a very complex artist. His work has instant sensory appeal and then, upon closer examination, subtly touches your spiritual mind. The craftsmanship is superb and his works magical."

For two weeks in February, McNeill became an artist-in-residence in Townsley's art class.

"This was a unique opportunity for my students to try a medium not usually offered in a middle school setting," Townsley said. "It was an exciting experience, and I feel that my students gained an invaluable look at a gifted professional artist who was willing to share his talent with us."

Students agree.

"Mr. Scott McNeill's class was a really cool experience for me, because I really didn't know much about carving until now," Lorena Hernandez said. "I learned that when you are doing a project, you really need to do it with passion. That way, your work becomes better."

"We had to learn how to round the wood and how to shape," Raquel Angulo said. "It was cool working with Mr. Scott McNeill, but carving is harder than it looks."

"Carving with Mr. Scott McNeill was awesome and really fun," Jose Mora said. "It would be cool if he could come again."

Apparently, McNeill enjoyed the experience as much as some of the students did.

"I'm grateful to Barbara and her students for the opportunity to share the basics of relief woodcarving and for all their enthusiasm and hard work," he said.

"At a time when many districts are cutting the arts from the curriculum to balance their budgets, Cartwright District and the Borman principal, Susan Jurkunas, obviously value the arts as an integral part of our students' education and find ways to fund experiences such as this artist-in-residence project," Townsley said.

Townsley was chosen as Arizona Art Education Association's Art Educator of 2005.

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