By Joel Hall
Torrey Thomas, 15, of Jonesboro, and Kaylan Baker, 16, of Locust Grove, are two of 10 gifted students from around the state chosen to participate in the first-ever Frank Ski Kids Foundation's International Art Excursion.
From July 22 to Aug. 2, the students will travel with the foundation to Florence, Italy, to study the work of Renaissance-era and modern-day painters, artists and architects.
In May, hundreds of students from around the state submitted art to the foundation to be considered for the trip. Twenty finalists then competed in a live drawing competition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta on May 22.
The 10 top students were given art supplies by design firm BBDO Atlanta, shoes and group T-shirts from the Nike Store in Lenox Square Mall, and an all-expenses-paid, week-long trip to Florence, Italy, the capital of the Tuscany region and the center of medieval Italian art, finance and trade.
Thomas, a rising sophomore at Mundy's Mill High School, said he is excited to be one of the top 10.
"When I heard my name for the top 10, I felt like I made a great accomplishment," said Thomas, who started drawing animals and cartoon characters at the age of 3. "I'm going to a whole other country ... can you believe that? Just to know that I'm part of something I see on TV all the time ... it shows me that I can step up my game a lot."
Baker, a rising junior at Luella High School, began drawing Japanese animation, Looney Toons characters, and other cartoons at an early age. By the sixth-grade, he said he was already making extra money by doing portraits of his classmates.
"In the sixth-grade, I would come back with cans full of money because kids would pay me to draw portraits of them while the teacher gave a lecture," Baker said. "I'm really excited. [The International Art Excursion is] a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I never thought something like this would happen. I thought I would be in the U.S. forever.
"Italy was the birth place of art. I look forward to my skills progressing and putting my art out there," Baker added. "I'm going to learn more about Italy's culture and their history and the ideas that they had."
Baker said he hopes to eventually pursue architectural engineering at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Tanya Ski, wife of V-103 FM radio personality, Frank Ski, and president of the Frank Ski Kids Foundation, said that for several years, the foundation has provided opportunities for students interested in math, science and the environment. She said the International Art Excursion will give local students a chance to gain experience in the arts in an international setting.
"There's a horrible situation in Atlanta, and many other communities, with no one having art programs in school anymore," Tanya Ski said. "We aren't seeing those creative juices. We are huge believers in travel and the huge influence and benefits that children get from it. We're praying and hoping that like our other trips ... it will really enlighten them."
Tanya Ski said Thomas, Baker, and the eight other students from around Georgia, will visit museums, travel to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and learn art techniques and Italian history from local professionals.
"It's not merely looking at art, it's becoming acquainted with the language, the culture and the people of that area," she said. "That is beneficial to any child."
Thomas, who also hopes to eventually attend the Savannah College of Art and Design, said this trip will encourage him to be a better student.
"As an artist, this trip is going to change my life," he said. "When I have this experience, I can tell other people that love to do art too that if you keep your head into it, you can go a long way."