Schenectady County

Schalmont student tells prize-winning story on chair

Schalmont High School senior Liza Miller tied for first place in the University at Albany’s Chairs t

Most people think of sitting down when they see a chair. Liza Miller saw it as a canvas to paint the story of “The Hobbit.”

“There’s so much imagery throughout the whole book, so there’s a lot I could do with it.” she said.

The 17-year-old Schalmont High School senior tied for first place in the University at Albany’s Chairs that Tell a Story contest. Students had to select from roughly 50 literary works and decorate one of the university’s original 1960s library oak chairs to reflect the theme of the book.

Miller said one of her art teachers had found out about the contest and persuaded her to enter.

“It was kind of unique because it’s art and literature, and I really care strongly about both,” she said.

“The Hobbit,” written by J.R.R. Tolkien, tells the story of Bilbo Baggins and Gollum’s quest to find treasure stolen by the dragon Smaug.

Miller said she had always wanted to read the book and this was her chance.

“I read it in two days. It was so good,” she said.

What she liked about the story was the journey, which gave her a lot of possibilities for decorating the chair. The students could do as much to the chair as they wanted, but people still had to be able to sit on them, according to Miller.

One element she used was a map the main characters use on their journey, which she painted on the seat of the chair.

Beneath the seat, she designed a “lake” made of paris craft, essentially a harder form of paper mache. Since Bilbo and Gollum told riddles to each other, she put some on the chair.

Also, on the side of the seat, she designed a circular door like those on Bilbo’s home. The homes are built into the sides of hills.

“I put actual moss on the edge of the door to make it look like a hillside,” she said.

She also put some spider webs on the seat through a time-consuming process where she attached them to the chair.

On the back of the chair, she drew some eagles that help save the heroes in the end. There is also a platform for the dragon.

Miller estimated she put at least 40 hours into the project between February and May — both in her drawing and painting class, where she did this in lieu of regular assignments, and outside of school.

“I took my chair home multiple times,” she said.

She was still working on the project the day it was due. Some of the paint was still wet when she brought it to the University at Albany.

“They let me sit on the floor of the warehouse and touch it up when it got messed up on the car ride over,” she said.

A panel of local artists judged the 41 chairs submitted for consideration.

Miller was happy with how it turned out.

“I was really proud of it because I worked so hard on it and so long,” she said.

Miller was surprised she won because there was a lot of competition. Students that were doing “The Lord of the Flies” had a crashed miniature airplane, and the “Alice in Wonderland” chair was also impressive, according to Miller.

“The images looked exactly like the Disney version,” she said.

Her art teacher, Geralyn Zink, agreed there was a lot of quality entrants.

“There was a lot of creativity in terms of how to conceptualize a story on a three-dimensional object,” she said.

For first place, Miller received a bag of art supplies from Arlene’s Art Supply in Albany and a $25 gift card to buy more. The school received a $250 gift card to Arlene’s, which Zink said will help in replenishing depleted supplies. She added this was a neat project because it combined literature and art, as the new Common Core standards embrace these types of multidisciplinary projects.

Miller said it was a bittersweet accomplishment because she is not going to be able to keep the chair — all are being auctioned off this fall.

“I’m really glad I got an opportunity to be a part of it. It was work, but it was so much fun,” Miller said.

Rensselaer High School also tied for first place with its depiction “Of Mice and Men” by student Paw Law Eh Zan and teacher Kim Jones.

Greenwich High School and Heatly School renditions of “1984” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” respectively, resulted in a second-place tie.

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