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    • Addie Priest ’21 with her surfboard.

    • Zane Franz’s album cover for Forsaken Sounds of Violence.

    • Aaron Gruen ’21 takes a photo of his bread for his cookbook.

Artistic Adieus: Senior Projects 2021

Rose Robertson ’24 Assistant Arts Editor
As this academic year comes to a close and several Seniors have presented their work in the final Virtual Assembly, twenty-nine Seniors at Hopkins have created Senior Projects that are connected to different facets of art.
Addie Priest and her partner for the project, Kate Collier, used their Senior Project to construct their own surfboards. Priest explained: “I started with rough planks of bass wood which we then smoothed out and traced a stringer template onto. After cutting out the templates, we screwed and glued them together. We then cut out the shape of the surfboard and spent lots of time sanding and shaping the rails of the board. Last week we started taking it apart again so we can chamber it, which essentially means hollowing out the inside so it’s lighter.” As for the final steps, Priest and Collier have yet to “re-glue it, re-sand it, put on the fins, and seal it up”. The journey to finish their projects has been busy but rewarding: “It’s been a LOT of work so far: at least 2-3 hours a day every day since we got back from spring break, but it’s been fun work.”

Aaron Gruen’s project fits a digitized world: “My project is called The World of Bread. Essentially, it’s an online cookbook, with one part detailing the science, history, and societal impact of bread. I tested and developed around a dozen recipes and variations. The main art aspect of my project is photographing the bread I bake, and designing my website.” The goal for Gruen’s project was “for [his] website to appear both as a
credible source and celebration of bread!”

For Zane Franz’s project, he decided to create a “Punk(ish)” album. He described how this will be his “fourth album, and I actually started working on it in September. I used a software called Waveform [a digital audio workstation].” Franz uses the platform to play bass guitar, drum, and sing. “What I started doing is playing a basic beat on drums by myself, and then I would go on the computer and edit it to make it way more intricate and interesting.” Franz added his hopes for his music to come: “In the future, I would definitely love to have a live drummer, but it didn’t work out, obviously!”

Many students chose to create art-oriented projects due to their past experiences. Priest stated, “I desperately wanted my Senior Project to be hands-on, considering the internet-heavy year we had just had. I also knew that I wanted to have a tangible product at the end of the semester, thus the artistic project approach.”

Franz expressed a similar sentiment: “For me, that kind of felt like the only thing that I would choose. I’ve been doing art and music for my entire life, and I love it so much and that’s what I’m planning to go to school for. I’ve been writing music for a while, doing music production since I was in fifth grade, and I started releasing music in 2019.”

On the other hand, the choice to venture into the artistic world took Gruen by surprise this year. He shared: “I never really envisioned my project as art-focused, but art has become a huge part of my process. From photography, to web design, and even font design, I’ve tried to make my project as visually appealing as possible.”

During the pandemic, creative outlets have become a form of expression for many, adding a new layer of consideration to artistic pursuits. While the pandemic didn’t explicitly affect Priest’s work process, possible obstacles did cross her mind: “I was certainly worried that Covid restrictions would impact my ability to do the work at school, but it ended up working out.”

The period of quarantine gave Franz more time to devote to his music, which fueled his Senior Project motivation. “I got kind of used to having that free time, and I wanted it back! And I mean, free time is not what it is because you’re working on the Senior Project, but it’s nice to have that time to work on your music specifically set aside, which I really like.” Although Gruen never intended to participate in a TikTok trend, an integral element coincidentally lined up with the popular quarantine activity: “My project does involve sourdough and bread, and I was always planning to do something along those lines. If anything, the pandemic convinced me, even more, to pursue a bread project, because a ton of people began baking bread for the first time!”

These artists drew upon personal influences for inspiration throughout their projects. Priest explained the stimulus behind her surfboard creation: “I grew up in Northern California, right outside of San Francisco. A lot of people around me surfed, and now, when I go back to visit, I surf with my friends there. I really wanted to have my own board on the east coast, and I was super interested in the process behind it.” Gruen was interested in achieving the expertise of websites he admired. He said, “I wanted to create a website as refined as sources like NYT Cooking and Cook’s Illustrated.”

Franz’s early exposure to music impacted his work significantly. He said, “I’ve been listening to punk rock since I was a little kid, so that’s been a huge inspiration for my music. My favorite bands are Ultra Q, which are an alt-rock indie-rock mix, and Waterparks, which is a pop-punk pop-rock band. And then other bands like Swimmers, they’re a punk band, Green Day, Weezer, and then some more classic punk, like Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Clash.” Franz strived to pull from the influence of his idols, while simultaneously carving out his own unique musical identity. He said, “I want [my music] to have this punk sensibility, but I also want to have a lot more than just angst and anger. I’m trying to take the type of music they make, make it my own, and then put my emotions to it obviously.”

The seniors all expressed gratitude for the assistance of Hopkins faculty in realizing their projects. “My senior project advisor is [English teacher Alexandra] Kelly, and I’ve had so many inspirations from too many sources to count! I learned most of my photography and web design skills from [Arts teacher Jonathan] Nast,” said Gruen. Priest stated, “An opportunity to work with the Wood Arts teachers, [R.C.] Sayler and [Derek] Byron, seemed way too fun to turn down.” Franz also appreciated teachers’ support: “My project guide was [English teacher Brad] Czepiel, because he and I both have pretty similar tastes in music and he was my English teacher last year, and we really connected over that, and he’s been super supportive of my music.”

Franz summed up the benefits of having someone to share your aspirations with, and how Hopkins has played a role in that important aspect of art creation: “It’s really nice to sit down with someone and just play the music for them, someone you trust and you really value their opinion, and that’s where I got my guidance.”

English Teacher Ian Melchinger, who serves as the head of the Senior Project Committee, enjoyed witnessing “individual passions emerge through the art projects.” He said, “So much of art is built in solitude, or with very particular collaborative moments; the project program allows seniors to find their own rhythm for deep work.” Melchinger also remarked on the advantages of the variety of projects each year: “There’s no consistent genre or approach: what comes out is the individual character and approach of each senior.”

Melchinger shared the skills that Senior Projects pass on to participants: “My hope is that seniors with project experience will go to new environments, in and out of college, and be able to say, ‘Here’s what I can contribute’ with accuracy. They can choose challenges more safely, without burning out or selling themselves short, because of this small but significant experience.”

Melchinger also detailed his perspective on the long-lasting value of the eight-week process: “The world needs more art, and most artists have complex lives and lots of side-hustles. The project program is a safe platform for seniors to figure out their strengths and struggles, to run out of juice, and then get up and try again. That’s essential. I love to see the projects, but I’m more interested in how they carry their experience into a future I might never see.”
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