The Beauty is in the Brushstrokes

When the famed Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) likes your art enough to extend an invitation, it is surely a sign that you've got some talent.  

That is the case for Kate McConnel '23, who was recently admitted to RISD's Pre-College Summer Program, where she will major in Painting. For six weeks, Kate will join hundreds of other aspiring artists to live like a RISD student, following a college-level curriculum with day-long studio classes, critiques, and final projects. The honor comes on the heels of Kate's impressive Tatnall exhibition during "Evening of the Arts," where her talent was on full display for the entire community, as well as an invitation to the Governor's School for Excellence at the University of Delaware last summer.  

"Art has always been more of a hobby, which I think is a blessing. Like anything, it is all about the amount of time you put into it. It's exciting to be in competitions and to be entering this program, but art is really just something I enjoy doing. I want to keep it that way."

Kate is a Tatnall lifer and daughter of Tatnall history teacher Lindsay McConnel, who carved out her own surprising path when she was Kate's age…in Athletics. Lindsay was a standout field hockey and track athlete in high school and went on to establish the women's lacrosse team at Vanderbilt University, where she served as co-captain during her junior and senior years. She remains an avid runner, athlete, and coach to this day, notably leading the Middle School Girls' Lacrosse Team to consecutive undefeated seasons. When the McConnel kids were younger, Lindsay felt it would be a natural progression for them to share her love for sports, so Kate's discovery of artistic passion came as a welcome surprise.  

"It's an amazing experience for me to be on campus with my kids, to not miss things. I try to be more of a fly on the wall and not suffocate them, but I love watching them grow. I get to see firsthand how much effort and care my colleagues put into their success. For me, particularly with Kate's art, that's such a Tatnall thing. I always had an interest in sports growing up, but I encouraged my kids to try everything and find the right fit. The teachers here helped spark Kate's interest in art and then went above and beyond to encourage her ambitions. They embraced her ideas, and they made them happen."

Kate also credits her teachers with furthering her artistic ambitions. Megan Acevedo encouraged her to join the Tatnall Art Society and then went the extra mile to help Kate enter contests. Suddenly she was winning scholastic awards like the gold and silver keys and had pieces in publications and special books. Both "Ms. Ace" and Sam Salazar give their students a ton of room for exploration, supplying the materials, spaces, and support necessary to take "crazy ideas" and see them through to completion. They've even encouraged Kate to use an elective in her schedule next year to work alongside them as a Teaching Assistant, which Kate hopes comes to fruition.  

"I feel like I have really good relationships with my Tatnall teachers. They may be my Mom's friends, but I feel like I can talk to them, and it surpasses a traditional high school experience. I've developed such strong relationships through classes, interests, and activities, yet it's so comforting to see how everyone goes in different directions in preschool, lower, middle, and now high school. Some people are known as sports people or theater people, but I think it's possible to be all of those things - and that's the benefit of a place like Tatnall."

For Kate and Lindsay, the link between their success in Arts and Athletics speaks to their frame of mind and approach to the hard work of teaching and learning. Lindsay always encouraged her kids to try everything, often noting that "nothing has to be forever." She enjoyed watching Kate tinker with her artistic side at school and at home but quickly realized that her creativity was blossoming into something more when Kate created an uncanny portrait of their family dog using nothing but black paint and a pencil eraser as a brush. She helped Kate start a small business painting the pets of friends and family, which helped set the table for the ambitions to come. For them, it's all about mindset, and that mindset is to put in the work and see what comes of it.  

Kate inherited plenty of her mother's athletic passion, noting that team sports put her in a better mood, especially her Tatnall teams that have such a positive team mentality. She is also acutely aware of the role that process plays in the finished product. In sports, as in art, practice and repetition are necessary to create beauty in the performance. For Kate, art is about more than just the piece on the wall - it is about the journey.  

"To the security guards' dismay, at art museums, my nose is always way too close to the paintings. I always want to see the brushstrokes and the artist's personal imprint, as I think the power of art is in its creation rather than the outcome. In my own work, I want viewers to be drawn to the overlooked, fine details because that is how a person can glimpse into my creative process and truly experience the artwork."
Kate will travel to RISD this summer to witness firsthand the creative process of some of the most talented high school artists in the country. There, she hopes to learn new processes, techniques, and approaches to artistic creativity so that she can incorporate them into her next endeavors.  
"I like to try everything at 100%, but you're never going to be 100% good at anything, and that's the point."

Click here to view Kate's gallery for "Evening of the Arts" and those of her fellow talented Tatnall artists.


The Tatnall School

The Tatnall School is an independent, coeducational, college preparatory day school for students in PK3 through Grade 12 located in Wilmington, Delaware.