Why Crozet: Students Fill Days with Creativity and Generosity

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Sidewalk artist Megan Balber. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

It’s important, where we live and why, and for a number of months the Crozet Gazette has been exploring some of the reasons why people choose to live in Crozet, and why they stay here. This month’s focus is on a few of the students who call Crozet home, and what they’re doing during the summer months after the long period of pandemic isolation. We found plenty of creativity and resilience in their choices, and also found a strong common desire to share their talents with the larger world. 

The Violinist

Margaret Lee has been playing the violin ever since she can remember. In fact, Lee said, she was playing before she has clear memories. It’s not the easiest instrument, she acknowledged, but she loves it and has plans to continue through her high school years and beyond. She’s a recent graduate of Henley and will start at Western in September. Lee’s an enthusiastic debater and hopes to study law in the future as well as keeping up her violin practice.

She’s an admirer of great music as well as a musician. Lee finds comfort in the works of the masters. “When things don’t work out for me, I find classical music very calming,” she said.

Henley student Margaret Lee offers free violin lessons to young musicians. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

Her gratitude for the presence of music in her life inspired her to offer violin lessons to the community free of charge because “Not everyone can afford lessons,” she said. Early in the summer she designed some fliers advertising lessons to young violinists, and taped one or two to each of the banks of mailboxes around her home. 

While she was at it, she added the option of free abacus lessons, figuring that learning about the ancient tool would be a novel experience for curious children, while also giving them a hands-on illustration of mathematical principles. Lee’s artistic interests don’t stop at music: she also designed and helped paint murals at Henley Middle School in July (see below).

The abacus gives young students a hands-on way to understand math. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

Lee said the offer stands throughout the school year as well as the summer. Once she’s officially at Western, she hopes to interest other students in offering volunteer tutoring in a variety of subjects.

To reach Margaret Lee, email [email protected]

The Sidewalk Artist

You might see walkers along Upland Drive give a series of little hops and wonder why. The reason: They’re trying to preserve the colorful and humorous cartoon figures that adorn the sidewalk. The whimsical characters are the work of Megan Balber, a nursing student presently attending PVCC before enrolling in the Master of Nursing program at U.Va. 

Cartoons blossom along with the lilies on Upland Drive. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

There’s no need to hop, Balber explained. The figures are temporary, made of chalk, erased by the rain or by the artist herself when she’s ready to try something new. In return, passersby leave thank-you notes, write suggestions for future art work, leave little presents like fruit gummies. She records her process as well as her final product on her Instagram. “I’ll sometimes take a poll to get suggestions for what to do next,” she said. One of her most common requests is for Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), and she also takes commissions from individual customers.

Megan Balber uses her Old Trail sidewalk as a canvas. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

Balber has already graduated once, from Christopher Newport University, where she majored in math and biology and minored in art. She found human biology fascinating, and that set her on a path towards a nursing degree. She weathered the pandemic lockdown at the Crozet home of her parents. When she first started rendering cartoons in chalk, “they were pretty bad,” she said, but she soon got the hang of it, outlining with a narrow bit of white chalk when needed, filling in with the darker colors first so wiping away the excess would not obscure the lighter ones. Often there’s a small crowd on a summer evening watching the figures emerge. Does she have a favorite? Yes, and it’s a more difficult one. “I’ve always been a fan of ‘The Lady and the Tramp,’” she said.

Follow Balber’s process and find the finished work @megansartwork on Instagram.

The Muralists

Faced with a number of blank walls, Henley Middle School students in the summer program filled them with colorful messages of encouragement. “We invited positive messages that would build community,” said Assistant Principal Becky Fisher. Students proposed designs they believed would fit that theme and then brought them to life with the help of gallons of colorful paint and the help of their friends.

Patricia Carter designed “One heart at a time” in honor of students who don’t feel welcome. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

There was a great deal of collaboration involved, said Clifton Evancho, the fine arts and social study teacher coordinating the mural project. “Students would take a look at the designs and suggest improvements.” With the help of a projector, the original designs were transferred to the appropriate wall (some also used freehand sketching), and class members pitched in to execute the artist’s vision. 

Sami Looney and Holly Cummings work on the mural, “Life is like paper” designed by Ariel Snyder. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

Students used their expansive platform to signal support for classmates who might be struggling. Patricia Carter, who enters 8th grade in September, designed “One Heart at a Time” for those who felt unwelcome. “I’ve known a number of people who feel that way,” she said. “In my experience, if people don’t have support, they tend to make bad decisions.”

Xiana Ide designed “Your Power is Your Radical Self” and Elisabeth Shin and Margaret Lee help bring it to life on Henley’s walls. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

Other murals depict the inherent value of different cultures, illustrate the lasting effects of cruelty, and invite students to find the power of togetherness. Having their positive sentiments displayed in this long-lasting way was also appealing to the kids. Jigisha Singh, who is entering the 7th grade, said she liked the idea of contributing to a permanent work of art. “I’d like to come back here in 40 years,” she said, “and find it still here.”

Photo: Malcolm Andrews.
Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

Do you have a particular reason why you choose to live in the Crozet area? Email Theresa Curry at [email protected] 

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