ACE Student Award winner loves using her art for others


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CHAMPAIGN — The ACE award that Natalie Wakefield won might be for her, but the art she makes is for others.

The UI freshman is among six individuals and one business set to be honored today at 40 North's annual ACE celebration. Her nomination touted her "outstanding artistic achievements at such a young age, her impressive humility and desire to continue to develop new techniques and discover new media," among other pluses.

But ask Wakefield about her art, and she'll talk about how much she loves to use it for other people.

"It's mostly for other people — I really like doing commissions for other people," she said. "I think it's to be able to make that for everyone else — creating their ideal that they want to have."

One of her favorite projects she designed for another was a portrait of her aunt for her grandmother.

"I made a portrait of my aunt when she was younger, and since they're both really close to me, being able to see her reaction was amazing," she said. "She had a very strong reaction, and she really liked it."

Wakefield credits her award to Stacey Gross, an art teacher at Centennial who pushed her into an advanced art class.

"She's the main influential factor with all my artistic content," Wakefield said. "She actually convinced me to take AP (advance placement) studio in the first place. I didn't have any inclination to do it, and I would not be where I am without it."

In that class, Wakefield found that she could combine her loves of art and astronomy.

"I made it my whole concentration," she said. "It's like every piece of work you make for your portfolio — they all kind of relate to each other. Mostly, I would just take photos of my friends, and I would put them in space environments interacting with different celestial objects in really interesting ways."

One aspect of her art that really draws questions, she said, is portraits she makes out of thread. They're made on a wood backdrop after careful detail work, which starts with her taking any image and sizing it to the wood she's working with.

She outlines where she'll put the nails, then hammers them in place so she can thread string around and around the nails, the image coming together with every thread.

It's that willingness to try new mediums that 40 North pointed to as one of the reasons she deserved the award.

But Wakefield is still surprised to have won at all.

"I was actually very shocked because I know it's a tough competition, and there's, like, master students involved," she said. "I definitely was shocked. It was actually one of my mom's co-workers that submitted my name. They were very excited about it."

In the future, Wakefield said she would like to pursue art education at its highest level. But then again, she's a ninth-grader, so she figures there's still time to solidify long-range plans.

"I would like to get my master's and be an art professor, but I'm open-minded because there's so many things I don't know about still," she said.

Honor roll

40 North will honor seven people or businesses at its annual ACE (Arts, Culture, Education) awards celebration next week in Champaign. The honorees, whose stories we'll tell between now and then:

Advocate Award: Kelly Hieronymus

Artist Award: Peggy Shaw

Volunteer Award: Jim O'Brien

Business Award: Exile on Main Street

Teacher Award: Brandon T. Washington

Student Award: Natalie Wakefield

Lifetime Award: Dorothy Martirano


Lyndsay Jones is a reporter covering education at The News-Gazette. Her email is ljones@news-gazette, and you can follow her on Twitter (@__lyndsayjones).