Art teacher Ed Pieske knew Lucy Miller would get an award for being the school's most talented painter at last month's celebration of outstanding seniors at Larkin High School in Elgin.
Then he heard Lucy's name being called for the photography award. And for the social studies award. And again for the Illinois Science Teachers Association award.
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Lucy MillerAge: 18
Who inspires you? Anyone with passion and dedication in his or her endeavors
What book are you reading? "The Lord of the Rings"
What's on your iPod? My favorite band is the Rolling Stones, but I also really like Bob Dylan, George Harrison, The Clash, Bruce Springsteen, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Simon & Garfunkel
The three words that best describe you? Contemplative, creative and perfectionistic.
And finally, for the Fermilab science award.
Until then, Pieske had no idea that 18-year-old Lucy was such an exceptional a student in both the arts and academics.
"That's when I found out really how good she was," he said. "The whole 'left brain, right brain' -- it really is unusual to be talented in both worlds."
In May, Lucy -- a straight-A student all through high school -- was valedictorian at Larkin and also was named the winner of the 14th Congressional District art competition. Every year, congressional districts across the country hold such competitions. This year's winning pieces will hang until next June in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Lucy's piece is an oil self-portrait in rich tones of orange and brown in which she pensively stares off into the distance, a game of light and shadows playing on her face.
Steven Lockwood, gallery director at Water Street Studio in Batavia, said the judges felt Lucy's piece showed real potential for growth. "We felt that at her age level, the skill in the application and technique was superb," he said.
Lucy said that for self-portraits, she takes up to 30 photographs of herself before finding one with the right evocative expression, color contrast and intensity of light, she said.
"I really like oil," she said, counting impressionists Manet and Toulouse-Lautrec as inspirations. "I really like the dramatic light effect you can achieve with it."
One of Lucy's pencil self-portraits still is used by professor Eddwin Meyers in his observational drawing class at the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago. Lucy took Meyers' drawing class at Elgin Community College when she was a sophomore at Larkin.
"I use it as an example of what I expect from students. It's really outstanding," said Meyers, who teaches about 900 students a year. "I thought she was very talented for being such a young person. That's always inspiring to me, that I can challenge my older ones with that sort of example."
Lucy said her love for art and her drive to excel academically always have been in conflict.
Despite having won several local student art competitions over the years, Lucy says she hasn't devoted as much time to art as some of her Larkin peers. She had to focus on academics, after all.
"You have to be disciplined, you have to plan your time out. You always have to expect everything takes three times as long as you expect it to take," she said.
In her art classes, Lucy surpassed her peers "by leaps and bounds" by working hard and also being open to criticism, a quality not common among artists, said Pieske, who has been teaching art for 20 years. "She's so talented, I wish she'd become an oil painter," he said.
But Lucy said she wants to make sensible choices about her future. In the fall, she will attend Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., but doesn't know yet what she'll study.
"It's not always most practical to be a painter," she said. "Sometimes I wish I could develop a passion for accounting."
Lucy took art lessons in grade school, but her passion for painting really blossomed just five years ago when her parents gave her a set of acrylics. Talent seems to run in the family, as watercolors by Lucy's father, Christopher, hang throughout the family's home.
Judith Miller said she has never had to push her daughter to do well. "Lucy has always been a perfectionist, and a bit mysterious about why she does what she does," she said. "I'm the kind of mom who says, 'Get a B, let it happen -- it will be all right,' but she never did that. Secretly, I am glad it never happened."
Lucy said it's in her nature to want to excel.
"I can't settle for what I feel is not my best," she said. "They say you are your toughest critic. I am definitely a perfectionist."
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