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Book Fair: Artist and Author Spotlights

Along with bringing the Assembly Room to life with her exquisite creations – made entirely from plastic bottles and other debris– multi-media artist Aurora Robson discussed her powerful mission and artistic process with students in each division. Students were also able to hear from Book Fair author Kayla Miller, an accomplished graphic novelist, who gave a captivating Assembly for Middle School students on November 19. Miller is the author and illustrator of “Camp,” “Click” and as of May 2020, “Act.”

Here are highlights from Aurora Robson and Kayla Miller’s presentations:

Artist Aurora Robson

On November 18, after students from Class 3 and 6 settled in, Lower School Head Thérèse Cruite introduced the morning’s special visitor, Aurora Robson, the Book Fair’s resident artist. After saying a few words about her background (she grew up in Hawaii and moved to New York as a teenager), Ms. Robson turned out the lights. 

In the darkness of the Lower Level Dining Room, a rotating display of this innovative artist’s arresting images, in various shapes and hues, shone magnificently on the screen. The students learned that these unusual sculptures, and all of Ms. Robson’s work, were fashioned from discarded materials like plastic bottles, plastic bags, bottle caps and detergent containers. 

“Only nine-percent of all plastic has been recycled,” she noted. “We should be able to do better.” Thus, her art repurposes materials that would have likely ended up in a landfill or, worse, as harmful land or ocean pollution, while raising awareness about the urgency of climate change and the importance of environmental protections.

Long annoyed by the abundance of junk mail—catalogs, fliers, credit card applications—cluttering up her mailbox and ubiquitous single-use water bottles, Ms. Robson, who also addressed Upper School students during News, was motivated to “interrupt the waste stream” by designing imaginative and sustainable ways to reuse garbage.

As Ms. Robson showed a slide of her Hudson Valley studio in action, she described the process of collecting, cleaning and transforming debris into art. She added that she enjoys collaborating with fellow artists and young people, including her two daughters, who often lend a hand by sorting and organizing (her 8-year-old) and fastening plastic pieces together using a welding machine (her 12-year-old). 

The students, who had the opportunity to view Ms. Robson’s artwork during their subsequent visits to the Book Fair, had a multitude of questions for this special guest. She called on as many as she could from the sea of raised hands.

One asked where her art is on display. “All over the place,” answered Ms. Robson, adding that an oversized, all-white work made entirely from plastic bags was commissioned by Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his New York City headquarters. Others are in office buildings, universities and private residences.

Another student wondered where her ideas come from. “You need to honor the things that have served you,” Ms. Robson said, adding that she finds inspiration in unadulterated nature.

After her presentation, this warm and passionate artist reflected on her Chapin experience. “It has been a great pleasure to work with the Chapin community,” she commented. “Thank you for supporting and sharing my work and for giving me the opportunity to speak with the students. They are remarkable. I was so impressed with their attentiveness and thoughtful questions.” 

Graphic Novelist Kayla Miller

As a young child, Kayla Miller constantly drew characters in sketchbooks, loved English and Art classes, and went on to major in Illustration in college. After completing a 24-page comic as part of a senior project, Miller fell in love with this specific medium and, after graduation, began posting comics online. An employee of Care Bears discovered them. 

“I was scared and nervous, I had never written professionally before,” Miller commented. However, after successfully creating three comics with Care Bears, Miller was offered the chance to begin writing graphic novels, leading to the birth of Olive, the main character in each of Miller’s recent works. 

Miller believes there are three important factors to remember when faced with the challenge of starting a new task. First, as we’re always learning new things, there is continually a first time for everything. Second, people want to see you succeed so you are always allowed to ask for help. Lastly, “if you break [it] down into steps, you can do anything!” 

The intrigued Middle School students ogled the screen as Miller detailed personal steps for creating a graphic novel through a Powerpoint presentation. These included planning, outlines, sketches, and re-writing scripts amongst many others.

Miller’s graphic novels deeply resonated with the young readers in attendance. Sixth grade Olive is an easily relatable character who comes up against concerns affecting Middle Schoolers everywhere, such as finding yourself and fitting in. 

The end of Miller’s presentation was met with an abundance of questions. Curious students asked where Miller’s inspiration and motivation come from, and what happens if an idea for a book doesn’t pan out. 

Miller graciously indulged each thoughtful question and offered insightful feedback. The following day, Kayla Miller was able to meet more students, returning to Chapin to sign graphic novels at the Book Fair.