• Abby Nash, Class of 2016
    Abby Nash, Class of 2016

Senior Abby Nash, Class of 2016, who has been legally blind all of her life, often emphasizes how little her disability impacts her artwork. She will graduate in December, but as she walks across the stage, her award-winning painting will be traveling the country as part of the national traveling exhibition (Re) Invention.

“I know the contest is about artists with disabilities, but I feel like first and foremost, we are all artists who got this award for our art,” says Nash. “It’s very nice to be recognized as a talented artist, and my disability is nothing to be ashamed of.”

VSA, which has been part of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts since 2011, selected Nash as one of 15 emerging artists with disabilities to have their artwork showcased in the year-long tour.

“Abby is exceptionally talented, intelligent and perceptive as an artist, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for her that others in our profession have also recognized her abilities,” says Professor of Art Star Varner.

This fall, Nash was awarded $2,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. and Virginia for various events.

“It is an incredible experience to be surrounded by other artists who are just as passionate as you are, and figuring out the same things in their careers as you are,” says Nash.

Nash received three days of free workshops, and was given the opportunity to network with former and current winners. She also attended two receptions where she was honored for her achievement—one at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, and the other at Volkswagen Headquarters in Virginia.

“The whole experience was a little surreal,” says Nash. “There I am talking to the vice president of Volkswagen all because of a painting I did.”

The painting called Clean Break is an intricate rendering of a cow’s femur bone, inspired by her childhood.

“I come from a ranching family, so I grew up spending a lot of time on our ranch with no cell service or internet,” says Nash. “I did a lot of exploring, and had a rather impressive bone collection.”

She was motivated to convey how the surface of the bone begins to resemble a landscape that has been weathered by nature.

“Her paintings of bones created on a large scale interpret nature in varying ways, usually with a haunting landscape metaphor,” says Varner. “Not all painters cross over into this level of depth in their work, so you can imagine how proud we are of her achievements.”

The artists who entered the competition were challenged to create work that exemplifies themes of renewal and self-discovery—of reinvention. Hundreds of artists applied, but the 15 selected were chosen for their enlightening interpretations of the theme sending a strong message of inclusion and unity in the arts.

“I learned a lot from the other winners who were a bit further than me in their schooling and careers,” says Nash. “It really reinvigorated my desire to keep pursuing my artistic goals.”

While she hasn’t made a definite decision on her future career, Nash is confident in the many options that pursuing a major in art history and political science has given her.

“In times when my knowledge of studio arts isn’t applicable, the skills I’ve learned in political science can help,” says Nash. “A liberal arts degree, above all else, has taught me to be a more skilled writer, to be more analytical, and also be open-minded.”

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