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North Hills Monthly

Student Artist Brooke Schonbachler Wins Top Awards

Jul 01, 2014 12:57PM ● By Jill Cueni Cohen
Newly-minted Pine-Richland graduate Brooke Schonbachler has already made a name for herself in the art world by winning 12 top awards—including a national Portfolio Gold and Silver—in this year’s annual Western Pennsylvania Regional Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

She’s in good company. In fact, Truman Capote, Philip Pearlstein, Sylvia Plath, Andy Warhol and John Updike all won Scholastic awards when they were teens.

“Regionally, her portfolio won one of five gold awards,” said her art teacher, Ramon Riley. “Next, her regional gold award work went to New York City for the national competition, where it was judged by a panel of renowned artists. Nationally, one of her individual paintings won a gold medal—out of 60 in the country. Another painting won a silver medal. In my career, I’ve only had eight students win a national award, and she’s won two.”

Riley has a right to be proud, as does the Pine-Richland School District: their students took home 120 awards from the prestigious competition…and Schonbachler was their shining star. “I think she was already a winner before the competition, because of what she puts into her artwork. She tries to pretend it’s easy, but I know how much research and sketching goes into it,” said Riley. “It’s almost a relief that she won, because you want to see a student who puts that much effort into her work be recognized. It’s great that someone at the national level got to see what I see every day.”

With paintings that appear to be almost three-dimensional sculptures reminiscent of Michelangelo and Bernini, Schonbachler’s portfolio has enabled her to secure scholarship money that is awarded to the top 20 students accepted to the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, which she will be attending this fall.

“Being recognized with awards is great, but I’d still be creating art for the rest of my life even if the judges hated my work. I’m progressing and creating things that I’m proud of, and that’s really all that matters,” said Schonbachler, adding that when she began her high school career, she thought that art would be a blow-off class. “At first I was just messing around. I thought that since I was already pretty good at art, I didn’t have to work as hard as other students and could slack off. But having Mr. Riley as a teacher changed my attitude because he showed me that creating average work wouldn’t cut it for me, when I had the capability of being great if I put my all into my art.”

Schonbachler also took private lessons from Riley, an artist in his own right who teaches at In Tune With The Arts Studios, Inc. in Richland Township. “He always says, ‘Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard,’ and I’ll never forget that,” Schonbachler said. “He’s had a huge impact on my life.”

Watching her teacher complete his master’s degree this year and accompanying him to art shows he was featured in was inspiring for Schonbachler and her fellow students. “I’m a good teacher but an even better artist,” said Riley, who recently received a $15,000 grant from The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments to create 30 new works for an exhibition about his hometown of Braddock.

Raised by an artist (mom Julie paints murals), Schonbachler is looking forward to her future. “I plan on opening and managing art galleries to provide inspiration for others the way galleries and museums in the area have inspired me,” she said.