Excellence in artistry: BHS seniors showcase fine arts work

"Follow Your Yellow Brick Road" was the theme of this year's Fine Arts and Activities Celebration Monday, April 25, at the Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts.

Student points to artwork
Brainerd High School senior Falcon Mitchell shows off his artwork and explains the methodology behind it during the Fine Arts and Activities Celebration Monday, April 25, 2022, at the Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — Pottery creations, vibrant paintings, intricate sketches and a whole host of artistic works by Brainerd High School students drew crowds and praise Monday, April 25.

The lobby of the Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts played host to the various displays of student work ahead of the Fine Arts and Activities Celebration, honoring seniors and other standouts for their work in the school’s numerous fine arts fields.

Orchestra members fittingly played selections from the recent spring musical “The Wizard of Oz,” as cast members showed off their vocal talents and while parents, students, staff and community members streamed into the auditorium for Monday night’s ceremony, themed “Follow Your Yellow Brick Road.”

“The arts are an essential element of education. Just like reading, writing, and arithmetic, music, dance, painting and theater are all keys that unlock profound human understanding and accomplishment,” Superintendent Laine Larson said, quoting former Secretary of Education William Bennett.

“Tonight we celebrate all forms of art — the accomplishment and the love of arts for our high school students,” Larson continued.


Also celebrated was a whole school year of full programming, complete concerts and live audiences after the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in so many plans over the past couple years. But the Gichi-ziibi’s stage, Activities Director Jack Freeman said, stood as the backdrop this year for so much high school talent.

“It was awe-inspiring to watch our incredibly talented kids led by incredibly talented directors on one of the most incredible stages in the state of Minnesota,” Freeman said. “It’s clear, Toto. We’re not in Kansas.

“Choosing to participate in the arts is both the most rewarding and often most frustrating experience anyone can endeavor. On the one hand, delivering an incredible musical performance gives us a rush and a satisfaction and is both rare and precious. On the other, the incredible amount of repetitive practice that is required to master a piece of music can be exhausting and difficult.”

Student displays artwork
Brainerd High School senior Mary Jane James explains the inspiration behind her multi-panel canvas painting during the Fine Arts and Activities Celebration Monday, April 25, 2022, at the Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Senior Falcon Mitchell knows firsthand the importance of practice when it comes to art, recalling the hours of time and patience it takes to create pieces like his various paintings and drawings that were on display Monday night.

Mitchell spoke of carefully blending colors, doodling with extra supplies and meeting challenges from friends to create his work, many of which are inspired by Japanese culture and anime.

His own self-portrait is no exception, featuring his face covered by a Japanese demon Oni mask.

“I didn’t want to do just my face because that’s kind of boring — it’s bleh, it’s normal,” Mitchell said. “So I went up to Mr. Wagner and was like, ‘Hey, can I do this instead? So I brought the mask to life. It was so much fun.”

Mitchell praised art teachers Joe Wagner and Lea Anderson for their guidance, something he’ll no doubt take with him as he goes on to study art at Central Lakes College and Bemidji State University.


Fellow senior Mary Jane James will also take her artistic skills on to college, having secured a full-ride scholarship to University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she plans to study character design for video games and animation, while pursuing some painting on the side.

James’ painting skills were part of a visual art display Monday night in the form of a multi-panel canvas landscape painting requested by her mom, Cassandra James.

A bright sky in shades of yellow, orange and pink rose above calm waters, offset by green foliage and pink and purple flowers. Cassandra James gushed at her daughter’s artistic talent, saying she begrudgingly had to take the painting off her living room so it could be displayed at the Gichi-ziibi.

Senior Gabi Chapulis also had her mom in mind during art class, having displayed a pottery creation that will be a Mother’s Day present but remains a surprise, as her mom couldn’t be there Monday night.

After visitors oohed and aahed at the students’ work, seniors took the stage, being recognized for their fine arts accomplishments throughout high school.Among the awards doled out were the Brainerd Dispatch Fine Arts Scholar Medallion, which goes to students who maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher while excelling in the fine arts field, along with Awards of Excellence, given by art teachers in the various disciplines.

Awards of Excellence went to the following students:

  • Distinguished Writer Award: Abigail Thompson.
  • Distinguished Poet Award: Mia-Rose Severson
  • Theater: Ina Holzer, Dean Root, Mia-Rose Severson.
  • Video productions: Barrett Rezac.
  • Yearbook: Emma Tautges and Lily Medved-Charpentier.
  • Decoy Design: Andrew Albright, Chase Hines, Caden Jager, Payton Johnston, Jonah Roskop, Ryan Windorski, Dawson Beck.
  • 2D Art: Mary Jane James, Falcon Mitchell, Noella Crabb.
  • Outstanding Leadership in Choir: Devin Knopf, Abby Pratt, Scottie Svoboda.
  • Digital Photography: Abigail Grams.
  • Knowledge Bowl: Nicholas Moore.
  • Pottery: Alyssa Middelstadt, Grant Gardiepy, Jack Schafer, Alaina Jensen.
  • Orchestra: Grace Haglin, Kiara Wiley, Catherine Blair, Carly Wheeler, Taylor Ruhl.
  • Speech: Max Johnson-Ding, Jayley Andresen.

“We have such talented kids every year in high school. It was a treat to be able to celebrate some of our finest tonight,” Freeman said to close out Monday’s ceremony. “To our seniors, thank you. Thank you for your involvement and your scholastic experience. As you shared your talents with us, you made Brainerd High School a better place.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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