The Art in Our Halls

Picture the average Stoughton High School hallway. Now picture that hallway with absolutely nothing on the walls—a much less recognizable and interesting space.
Ruth Phillips is an SHS art teacher who puts students’ artwork on display.
“[Displaying art] is not simply to beautify our halls, but to […] promote the artists and our classes,” Phillips says.
When you walk through our hallways, you’re walking through the years of history that Stoughton’s thriving art community has fostered.
SHS’s numerous art classes strive for students to not only decorate our halls and town but also learn something valuable beyond the classroom.
The SHS art department started taking pictures of art that they couldn’t hang in the halls a few years ago, whether it be because the artist wanted to keep the original or because it was in a medium that couldn’t be displayed, such as ceramics. These photos are in the 1000s hall today.
Brianna Turner, the artist of the painting “Wood Duck,” graduated in 2015. Her art teacher freshman year is now-retired Howard Roloff. She then had Phillips for the next three years.
Turner says her art process was slow and didn’t involve clear direction. She often jumped into creating art without a specific vision.
“When I [knew] what I wanted to create, I did it step by step without a finished idea,” Turner says.
However, this free-thinking process didn’t protect against the hardships of the art community.
“I sometimes didn’t like what I made and didn’t think it compared to others,” Turner says.
Despite her struggles, Turner was proud of her eventual success. Although she has not pursued art beyond high school, she now works at a preschool.
“I felt honored when my art was displayed,” she says. “Ms. Phillips had a part in making that happen.”
Phillips is crucial in featuring the art that SHS students have made, whether past or current. The art department still features new pieces in addition to older works.
“Lately, I’ve been featuring all art, not specifically those that are more talented,” Phillips says.
The department has expanded its showings beyond SHS to the Admin Building and Stoughton Public Library, and more —in Phillips’ words— “refined” pieces might be entered in the library’s art show.
Another former SHS art student, Emily Berceau (formerly Emily McCune), graduated in 2017. A photo of her piece “City” is displayed in the 1000s hall.
“If I remember correctly, I had already made the vase when [Brabender] asked if I wanted to enter it into an art show,” Berceau says.
Similarly to Turner, she didn’t create art for it to be display-ready.
“Since I can’t please everyone else, I find it’s better […] to do what I like,” Berceau says.
Just because Berceau didn’t have her audience clearly in mind doesn’t mean she didn’t appreciate input. She’s a former “awkward teen,” and teachers’ encouragement boosted her self-esteem.
“As a student, it felt really special to have a teacher recognize what I had been making [was] good,” Berceau says.
Eventually, Berceau’s “City” won first place in an art show. In her words, “that felt pretty awesome.”
When Berceau im- proved at the basics of ceramics in high school, she “became curious about how big [she] could throw.”
“[I] started throwing larger stuff, and like most people new to the wheel, the pieces were coming out thick. From there, I started carving designs […] to thin them out,” Berceau says.
That technique led her to success. Berceau initially made the “City” vase very tall and used vertical buildings to fill the space.
There were a few pieces from high school that Berceau remembers as having stood up to the test of time, and the “City” vase is one of them. Two others have gone to people Berceau knows.
“A fish vase I gave [Mr. Brahbender] turned out
pretty cool, [and my mom still has] a serving bowl with goldfish on it,” Berceau says.
However, Berceau hasn’t continued ceramics much past high school.
“I continued for a bit at my college art center, but other hobbies that were more convenient took over my time,” Berceau says.
Berceau hasn’t given art up entirely and has found other ways to be creative, such as fiber arts, rosemaling, drawing, and woodworking. Berceau even took on a larger-effort project.
“I rebuilt a little school bus into a home that I lived in for a year,” Berceau says.
In her words, “creativity extends way outside of just art projects.” Although she misses ceramics, Berceau stays inspired in other ways.
Yet another past student, Danny Mork, has taken on art professionally. Although he doesn’t have artwork currently on display, he’s found other ways to represent SHS.
“I’ve basically only pursued art outside of high school,” Mork says.
After taking art classes with Roloff and Phillips in middle and high school, he completed a painting and drawing degree at UW- Milwaukee after graduating high school in 2013.
“The resources at SHS were fantastic,” Mork says.
His art classes and participation in online art communities like DeviantArt and Tumblr encouraged him to try new methods that expanded his abilities. Nowadays, he works as a graphic designer for Perq Marketing.
Mork believes making art should be for oneself.
“If you don’t enjoy the process [or] the final product […] the audience won’t either,” Mork says.
On the other hand, it’s important to balance between your vision and viewers’ enjoyment, especially when it’s your job.
“I gear my work to be digestible towards everyone because it’s for anyone who wants to see it,” Mork says.
Although he wanted his work to be appreciated by all, he received more criticism once he started college. However, Mork says critiques can be a substantial part of improvement.
“Constructive criticism is so much more helpful than when someone just says they like something,” says Mork.
Whether they’ve left their art to decorate the school or taken their creativity outside of the classroom into the world beyond, the former art students of SHS have allowed for Stoughton’s legacy of artistic talent.