The Florida State Fair is over and done with. The rides dismantled, the trappings of the midway, too, all on their way to someplace else.
And so is a piece of local artwork by Zephyrhills High senior Bernadette Barrera. Her painting, titled Stallion in Simplicity, was recently selected from more than 200 entries as one of the 12 state finalists in the fair's 2013 Youth Fine Arts Competition, "Florida Agriculture: 500 Years in the Making." Now the painting of a thoroughbred horse that is cared for by students in the Zephyrhills High agriculture program will be traveling to exhibits throughout the state for the coming year.
"I never really won a contest before — just an honorable mention at the county fair," Barrera said. "So this was really exciting."
It was a fine showing for Barrera, and the school's art program in general, as four fellow students were also named as semifinalists in the contest.
"We were pretty impressed. We submitted 10 pieces and five of those were selected as semifinalists," said former Zephyrhills High art teacher Deborah Gillars, who took students out to the school's agriculture barn for inspiration before her retirement in early January. "It was a fun project. The ag students were out at the barn feeding calves and horses and we tried not to get in the way. My students took pictures and then we all came back the next day and shared images and talked about the different compositions and the different medium styles the kids might choose."
But it wasn't just about art. Students also had to research Florida agriculture and submit a written paper.
Barrera, who typically favors painting the human form, said she was looking for something simplistic. The horse fit the bill.
"I've always loved to draw. I like the creativity. It's really a good way to vent and express yourself," she said, adding that she discovered a niche with a box of crayons back in her preschool days. "I would draw my family a lot."
As the youngest of six kids, she had plenty of models to choose from.
These days, Barrera keeps busy working independently in a tiny studio tucked in the back of the school's art classroom. There she works on her Advanced Placement concentration, creating a series of miniature acrylic paintings personifying aspects of nature. Among them: a rainbow colored, back-bending human silhouette; a green stemmed walking figure topped with a bright yellow sunflower; and her favorite, a blue and white sky dancer, eloquently depicting the wind.
"They are just lovely little pieces that show a lot of sensitivity and her personal voice," Gillars said. "You can tell a lot about her in her artwork without meeting her, that quiet, unassuming sensitivity."
"I love her artwork," said the school's new visual arts instructor, Carolyn Frances. "She's very delicate with a brush, very concentrated. She creates something to catch your attention and then she makes you want to look more."
Barrera, who is a big Dr. Who fan, writes poetry and short stories. She also volunteers at the local Seventh-day Adventist Church once a week to feed the homeless. Part of her school day is spent working with underclass students as a peer assistant for Frances.
That's something that might do well in preparing her for the future.
"She's invaluable — so very helpful with the students and me," Frances said. "She's great all-around; college ready."
That's where Barrera is headed after graduation this spring. She's undecided about where to go, but mulling over Pasco-Hernando Community College or the University of South Florida.
"Wherever I go I want to do something with art," Barrera said. "I think I'd like to be an elementary art teacher because I really like working with kids."
Michele Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.