Bristlecone Student Spotlight: Roaring Fork High School’s sustained investigations in art |

Bristlecone Student Spotlight: Roaring Fork High School’s sustained investigations in art

Conceptual art as a series inspired creative thinking with a little existentialism for a couple students at Roaring Fork High School. 

Each year, advanced placement seniors at Roaring Fork High School choose a sustained investigation for their art, and theme it with a question that relates to their works throughout the year, on a more profound level. 

“It forces students to stick with an idea through multiple pieces of artwork to create a cohesive body of work,” Bristlecone Art Collaborative Founder Lindsay Latva said.

Glenwood Springs, Roaring Fork and Basalt high schools feature full art exhibits from student work created throughout the year. Each month, the Post Independent features an art student spotlight in Garfield County, chosen and supported by the nonprofit Bristlecone Art Collaborative.

Two AP art students at Roaring Fork High School stood out with the questions they posed for their sustained investigation project, Emily Wilson and Dean McMichael. 

Each student was able to use a variety of different media to experiment with different forms of art, and they each honed in on old styles and experimented with new forms, learning to appreciate making art in many different ways. 

Emily Wilson posing with her Japanese soda turned skull and her barcode pieces.
Cassandra Ballard/Post Independent

The students then present their packets for their year-long project to be graded in the AP test for potential college credit while in high school.

Wilson’s art was focused on death and life, she said. Taking a little longer to narrow down her perfect question, Wilson landed on asking, “how the fragility of human life affects the human ego.” 

Each piece of art she worked with embodied her concept or question with themes like insecurity, censorship, how humans are the same when stripped down to their skeleton and the overall life and death.

“You’ll be insecure about all sorts of things in life, but in death, we all look the same,” Wilson said. 

Wilson featured a Japanese soda that she noticed was naturally in the shape of a skull, so she painted what she naturally saw and she wanted to represent death and gore, in a good way. She said her art had elements of life and elements of death.

McMichael took a different route with his question, asking, “how do the lenses with which we view the land affect our interactions with it?”

Dean McMichael posing with his barcode and his charcoal pieces.
Cassandra Ballard/Post Independent

One of McMichael’s pieces, which both he and Wilson were assigned, was using barcodes. For the piece, McMichael heavily researched barcodes and how they worked and then he created a very specific barcode for his concept.

“Each number has four stripes of varying lengths,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter, but that’s just the rabbit hole I fell down and that allowed me to use a significant number here. The barcode actually does encode this number.”

Dean McMichael’s wall display showing his barcode rainforest project and his Taos Pueblo oil painting.
Courtesy/Bristlecone Founder Lindsay Latva

The barcode number he encoded was the square kilometers of the Amazon that were deforested in 1970, he said. 

The rainforest trees in the picture cast a shadow of the barcode with the numbers listed beneath it, but the actual line in the barcode are corn stocks “replacing” the rainforest. 

In the same assignment, Wilson used the barcode as a symbol of censorship over a naked body in a yin and yang styled piece. Barcodes covered naked body parts with microscopic cells in the backdrop on one side, the other side was completely lined in barcodes with an x-ray skeleton laying on top of them. 

McMichael said he uses a palette knife for everything, but one piece that stood out from his use of texture was his painting of the Taos Pueblos with the layers resembling the clay of the pueblos. As a lens, he used the concept to show how the pueblos are built efficiently, by using nature and their surroundings. 

Charcoal was another piece of pride for McMicheal because he liked being able to add new layers into it, much like in oil paintings. 

Wilson’s full senior display at Roaring Fork High School.
Courtesy/Bristlecone founder Lindsay Latva

“I am a lot more intentional about what my art is saying,” McMichael said, with Wilson strongly agreeing about their artwork since taking AP art in high school.

He said he would have never done the work he did without the question.

“It just forces you to change your methods, and grow as an artist,” Wilson said, agreeing with McMichael.

Both students had many more works of art with great depth featured for their display. 

Bristlecone Arts Collaborative is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enriching art education. Help them continue their programming like this Student Spotlight by donating on their website at, linking your City Market card (link on their website), and liking them on Facebook at BristleconeArtsCollaborative.

Post Independent city and business reporter Cassandra Ballard can be reached at or 970-384-9131.

Roaring Fork District student art shows

32nd Annual Glenwood Springs High School

Open nightly 4-7 p.m. through Thursday in the Auxiliary Gym

Roaring Fork High School Student Art Show

Open after school until 6 p.m. Wednesday-Friday in the school library

Basalt High School Student Art Show

Open 5-7 p.m. May 24-27 in the BHS Commons (Opening reception May 25)

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