Art by two LCHS standouts picked for national exhibit

Military-themed work bound for U.S. Department of Education
Apr. 30, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

Two seniors at Lee County High School will see their art on display for a national audience this summer.

Raphiel Rodriguez and Elijah West both created military-themed pieces that were chosen to be among other selections from the state of North Carolina in an exhibit at the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. at the Lyndon B. Johnson Building.

"It's a good accomplishment," Rodriguez said. "It made my family happy. My mom had to tell literally everybody."

Both Rodriguez and West said they were surprised when they heard they had been chosen, although the teachers who nominated them said they shouldn't have been.

"Everything that he did was next-level," art teacher Brian Wohleben said of West, adding that West might actually be even better at 3-D art than the two-dimensional work recognized in the contest.

Fellow art teacher Jody Stouffer, who nominated Rodriguez, said his work all year has been great, but he especially loved the quality of the piece that will be shown in D.C. and the story behind it. Rodriguez has been in JROTC at the school all four years, is team commander of that group's Raiders team — which competes in military-inspired competitions — and is planning to enlist in the Army after graduating.

His work was scratchboard art — a form of etching that results in sharp black-and-white images — featuring a collage of various Army themes. In the center stands a soldier in a "juggernaut suit" similar to what a bomb squad member might wear, flanked by a tank and a gas mask. The top of the panel features an attack helicopter and a fighter jet firing missiles, plus troops parachuting down. He said he wanted the piece to reflect the Army's dual focus on ground and air warfare.

"It just really jumped out," Stouffer said. "It had a good story, too. And seeing as it had a patriotic theme, and will be hanging in our nation's capital, it just works really well."

West's work also had a military theme, although it was less abstract. With the bell tower scene from "Saving Private Ryan" in mind, he painted an oil pastel featuring a close-up of a sniper aiming down his sights. Like Rodriguez, West said he plans to join the military, but he wants to finish college first. Specifically, he intends to major in building sciences at Appalachian State University.

Rodriguez said he plans to do four years of active duty and then take advantage of the GI Bill to go to college.

He said he might take some art classes when he returns to school, but he isn't sure he wants to major in the subject — despite this latest accolade and a lifetime of love for the subject.

"I have videos from when I was a kid. My family would hand me a sketch pad, and I'd just go crazy with it," Rodriguez said.

Stouffer said this is the first year the school's art program has been recognized on a national level like this. However last year, a student's art was featured at the N.C. General Assembly. West and Rodriguez's artwork will be on display throughout June and July, and a reception and ceremony are set for all the state's honorees on June 21.