Leaving a legacy

Patience and persistence pay off for ‘Artist of the Year’

Posted on Sep 26 2019 in General
Always a perfectionist and her own biggest critic, Danielle Sommerman, right, discusses how she could have made her October illustration even better with her mom, Daffney, at the student artist reception and exhibit at the Indiana State Museum in August. Her work, by the way, was already the “Best of Show.”

“Artist of the Year” Danielle Sommerman has a front-porch view of the vacated floodplain that once was the town of English.

Most of the town was chased to higher ground about a mile to the east in the 1990s after yet another flood. Where there once were driveways, buildings and lawns, there are now fairways, bunkers and greens of a golf course. “This is the shell of a town,” said Danielle. “I know the golf course has covered up most of it, but there’s broken glass bottles, rusty pieces of metal, old things everywhere.”

Growing up in these surroundings, Danielle is keenly aware of how time and tide tear at all things. She articulates a stronger desire and urgency to make her mark in life than most 16-year-olds you’ll meet. “I don’t know how much of it has influenced my art,” she said. “I know it probably has subconsciously. Even though there are so few people here, there’s all that stuff that’s left behind … like a legacy almost.”

For years now, Danielle, a junior at Crawford County High School, has been leaving a legacy of her own on walls of electric cooperative consumers all across Indiana. Her artwork has appeared in six of the past eight editions of the Cooperative Calendar of Student Art, a wall calendar distributed by participating electric co-ops. This past spring, as a sophomore, she achieved her long-time goal — winning the “Best of Show” and earning the Artist of the Year title.

Her winning work, illustrating October in the upcoming 2020 calendar, is a detailed colored pencil illustration of a 1927 Ford Model AA truck hauling pumpkins. It’s a departure of her past subjects which dealt with gardens and nature. “I was a little bored with the nature stuff,” she noted. “I wanted to see if I could do something as complex as a truck.”

Earlier in the year, she had drawn a rusty old pickup truck that took first place in the annual art contest sponsored by the Overlook Restaurant in Leavenworth. The theme had to depict the effects of the time. Fresh off the success of that illustration, she chose another truck, a shiny new — but old — truck, for the calendar. “I love reflections. The truck was just like heaven for me because of all the different reflections,” she said.

Danielle’s work first appeared in the student art calendar when she won an honorable mention as a third grader. She illustrated two happy slugs in a garden for March. In the 2015 calendar, her water color of pink dogwood blossoms illustrating May won the fifth grade division. She then switched her medium of choice to colored pencils and since seventh grade has won her grade division every year. 

“I’ve been wanting the Best of Show since first grade,” she said, “and 10 years later, I finally achieved it.”

Along with art, Danielle has other passions. She is 54,000 words into a young adult science fiction novel she started writing a couple of years ago. For a career, she wants to pursue her love of chemistry.

“Seeing the sheer amount of plastic and pollution in our world and in our oceans fills me with so much rage,” she said. “I might as well make that rage a part of my career — and chemistry is my favorite class. I absolutely love the reactions … there is just undying curiosity there. So maybe I could develop something to help our world,” she added. 

Art and chemistry might seem far apart on the education table, but Danielle approaches art almost as if she’s joining different molecules to create something new. “It’s the concept that I have a paper, some supplies, and my hands when the process starts. And when the process is finished, there is an object you can look at. A photo didn’t do that. Technology didn’t do that. My hands and some supplies did that.”

On the front steps leading up to the Sommerman’s home, the silvery tell-tale trail left by a tiny snail or slug glistens in the afternoon sun. It brings to mind Danielle’s first successes in the art contest with the little garden mollusks.

Quirkily, snails and slugs are a universal symbol of slow steady progression, stability and persistence. That’s the kind of stick-to-itiveness Danielle and so many other student artists have shown pursuing and then achieving the Artist of the Year honor over the years. In a whimsical way, they also symbolize what artists do, what all humanity does. Even an insignificant and transient slug or snail leaves a little part of itself behind as it passes through this green earth — an iridescent legacy on a dull concrete slab.

Danielle still has a long lifetime journey ahead, but she’s already thinking about her legacy. “I want people to remember me by the things I did in my life,” she said. “So, my art, my writing, maybe something with the chemistry path I’m choosing — whichever route I stick to — I want people to remember me.”

RICHARD G. BIEVER is senior editor of Indiana Connection