Art History Bears Path to Success for Wilson Grad

  • 01/15/2019
  • Melina Paris

2018 Wilson High Graduate and Art History Major, Tess Anderson

By Melina Paris, Staff Reporter

Continuing our second in the series on two Wilson High graduates from Long Beach, we look at Tess Anderson’s story. Tess discovered her path to higher education through the arts. She received a full scholarship to Scripps college in San Diego, where she plans to earn a dual major in art history and art conservation, with a minor in history.

The graduate came through the challenge  of a serious illness while still maintaining her studies. Just as in our first profile, Tess stood out because of her own resolution and through the support of her family and school. It became clear after talking to her mother, Tess also possess strength and compassion which is the key to what drives her forward.

“Tess did not begin high school intending to be a valedictorian,” Michelle Anderson said. “However, after she completed her sophomore year and had earned a 4.0 to that point, she thought about the possibility.”

Anderson recalled her daughter telling her, ‘I can do this.’ “with a smile on her face and a spark in her eyes.”  Tess’s parents encouraged her to not focus on that end goal, but to just do her best. Anderson said once Tess puts her mind to something, she does not give up easily.

“Tess is truly a self-motivated young woman who put her mind to it and worked hard to achieve this goal,” Anderson said.

She has taken nine Advanced Placement classes and several honors and accelerated classes. Tess spent much of her free time working on homework and projects. She did not just want to get good grades; she wanted to master the material.   

The teenager’s mother didn’t exaggerate when she called Tess an incredibly talented artist, particularly with painting and drawing. Tess has been selected for three juried art shows while in high school, which is a rare accomplishment for someone her age. She’s taken studio lessons since third grade and has participated in Wilson High School’s excellent visual arts classes all four years of her attendance. Tess has a “deep love of history” and she spends her free time devouring podcasts, documentaries, books, and movies about history, art, and historical fiction. 

When Tess began her advanced-placement art history class in her senior year, she discovered that she could make a career through combining her loves of art and history. At a tour of Scripps College, she discovered they had an art conservation major and she was hooked. 

One look at Tess’s extensive resume makes clear that she had an extremely busy high school career. Her extracurricular activities included: Wilson High Parent Teachers Students Association student representative executive board member, studio art classes, volleyball club, girls’ volleyball team, art club, California Scholarship Federation and National Honor Society (where she received honors for academic excellence and excellence in biology awards), American Sign Language Club, adventure club, pride club, feminist club and SPCLA club.

She interned for the Long Beach Firefighters Association, worked as a programmer for Just Ahead, and worked as a babysitter.

It’s a wonder how this young woman balances her many activities. She did have a setback in her Junior year. She played volleyball during her first two years but then she contracted mononucleosis. She couldn’t get well and she kept getting injured. Tess ended up having to have surgery when her junior year started. She missed a couple weeks of school so she couldn’t try out for volleyball. She wasn’t well enough to play, so she decided not to. Then she realized she liked having the free time.

“It was way too much,” Anderson said. “She had a zero period and then she would play or practice until 10:00 p.m. at night sometimes and taking AP classes. It was insane. We were very opposed to it in the first place but let her make her own decision. It wasn’t the best decision on our part. I own that. But she got well again.”

She also had the support of her teachers. Her teachers knew “she wasn’t a flake.” During this time, Tess would strategize what classes she would go to each day. For instance, she would realize there was going to be a lecture in her AP biology class so she would go to that class. Then her mother would pick her up early or take her in late. She made it through and her teachers were really supportive and understood she wasn’t missing school just to miss school.

Anderson said Tess thrives with her level of activity. She does get tired, but she rejuvenates. Her family is close and they do many things and have fun together. This has probably led to the fact that Tess is sociologically well-rounded in academics, the arts, and in community service. This was important to her parents. Anderson said they couldn’t just (have their kids) do one thing. It had to be a variety of things so they had a well-rounded view of the world.

“That’s why we chose to raise the kids in Long Beach,” Anderson said. “We wanted a diverse community in many different ways.”

Her mother said Tess is really talented in art and curious about things. She’s owned those skills and her art helped to develop them. In her higher education, Tess plans to specialize in paintings, which involves thoroughly researching the artist, time period of the painting, and the materials used by the artist to paint their work. 

Scripps College has complementary internships with the Getty Museum and study abroad programs in England, France, and Italy that will enhance her education and exposure to experts in the field. Tess plans to take advantage of every opportunity available at Scripps.

In one of Tess’s recent projects in her AP art class, she did a provocative series where she portrayed children in “uncomfortable situations.” Tess took a picture of President Nixon, the one (where he’s getting) on an airplane with his hands up in the air, waving. She switched Nixon to a child in a suit with baggy sleeves and his arms up, saying, “I’m not a crook.” In another she took a photo of Queen Elizabeth. Instead of being a portrait of the Queen, she switched it into a little girl’s face, presenting how putting children in these situations is uncomfortable— to make people think about, is it even comfortable for an adult? She also had a picture of a lynching that had taken place and a young boy had gone up to touch the victim’s feet.

“It was really disturbing,” Anderson said. “I said, ‘Oh, I can’t stand that one,’ Tess said, ‘Good, you’re not supposed to like it. You’re supposed to think about how horrible that is.’”

The students had to send a portfolio of 26 pieces of professional, college-level art for AP studio art, which Anderson noted is a huge amount of work. They are evaluated for content, technique, and style. Tess had the same teacher at Wilson for studio arts all four years, Dominique Szeto.

“He really helped her grow,” Anderson said. “She was told, a lot, that she is very talented. He said ‘Yeah, you’re talented, but…’ That pushed her out of her comfort zone and helped her grow even more.”

There is much more than art to Tess. Her mother said she notices things that are unjust or unfair and gets “amped,” and wants to do something about it. Just in the last year, she’s grown up and feels more confident to speak up and state her opinion.

“She was one of the student representatives on the parent board at school and she would speak up to say when the students wouldn’t like a plan or to bring attention to what (the board) was missing,” Anderson said.

Tess will have a dual major in art history and art conservation, with a minor in history. The art conservation ties in because of the historical research conservationists must do on the artist, the time period and on the medium that they used—they didn’t have the same materials we have now. Conservation also involves a lot of chemistry.

The Getty offers a  master’s program and an interning program. Tess is excited about studying those conservation and historical concepts. She will also study abroad. There is an art school in England where she’s thinking of completing a semester and then either going to Florence or to Paris. And of course, Tess wants to get into The Louvre as an intern or anything at all. She said she would even sell snacks. She just wants to be in that space.

Anderson said her daughter has had a hard time adjusting from the pace of what she was doing during the last four years. She has settled in by doing her art and one of her favorite ways to unwind is to watch historical fiction or documentaries.

From overcoming serious illness to finding her voice and passion, Tess worked creatively within her challenges. Her family and school were there supporting her the whole way. And through her trials she gained the greatest lessons along the way, self reliance as well as her path towards higher education.

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Melina Paris

Melina Paris is a Southern California-based writer, who blends her passion for writing and connecting people to their local community into pieces centered music, cultural events, the arts, and most recently, the intersection of art and social justice.