Kathy Vo, Mt. Lebanon Class of 2023, is the latest winner of the Mt. Lebanon Artists’ Market Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded annually by the Mt. Lebanon Partnership.
Vo submitted five pieces for the scholarship, two of which were two-dimensional and three of which were three-dimensional. One of the pieces, a sculpture titled Roots, was the first time Vo had worked with three-dimensional artwork.
Roots was inspired by a trip to Vietnam that Vo took to visit family. On the trip, she struggled with balancing two conflicting cultural identities.
“It didn’t really hit me when I was younger,” she said. “Because I would just play with my cousins, I wasn’t really super aware of the cultural differences. I went back in seventh grade and I also went back last year and both of those times … it was really clear that I am not as Vietnamese.”
Vo used her Roots piece as a way to get in touch with her roots.
“My family are the only ones who moved to the U.S., so there’s a big difference, and that inspired me to make the Roots project,” Vo said. “I want to have that Vietnamese culture. I don’t want to lose it.”
Vo took 3D art her senior year because scheduling would not allow her to take 2D art a second time.
“I had never done 3D art before, and I was like ‘that seems really cool, I want to give it a try.’”
She had difficulty at first working with 3D materials, but eventually found the process of sculpting to be more creative than working in 2D.
“With 2D art it was mostly paper and then colored pencils, or like pen and ink, oil pastels, things that are made to make art,” Vo said. “For the 3D art, to be able to build the sculptures and lift them up, I had to get creative with what materials I could use and what was stable enough to hold the weight of clay or plaster.”
For her 3D projects, Vo used a variety of resources, many of which she reused from her own home, including tinfoil, old newspapers, pipe cleaners and Trader Joe’s bags.
“I started with wire bases and then I had to use masking tape to build and shape the base of the material before I could put the clay and newspaper papier-mâché on top to create the final shape of the structure,” Vo said. “It was really difficult because I wanted to build bigger, I didn’t want to have anything too small, so… I could focus more on details. I can capture more expression, shape flow, and build a more interesting composition.”
Another key source of inspiration for Vo came from working alongside other students in school.
“My peers inspired me a lot, just watching them explore different materials, different styles, and different mediums,” Vo said. “I get inspired by watching … their processes in creating art and how they define each piece that they make.”
She had a similar experience selling her art at the Mattress Factory’s Young Artist Maker Market in May.
“Most of the people there I didn’t know but they were all around my age,” Vo said. “Seeing all of their different arts, like somebody made jewelry out of wire metalworking, there’s woodworking there, ceramics and mugs, really inspired me because I realized there’s more art that I haven’t tried and explored yet and I want to try all of it.”
Vo is attending the University of Pittsburgh to study either biology or environmental sciences alongside art. She hopes to combine whichever field she ends up studying with her artwork, giving the example of using trash in a project if she chooses to pursue environmental science.
“I think I’m leaning more towards environmental science and using plastic and … turning it into something more useful again,” Vo said. “Sustainability is something that I really want to try, I’ve never worked with metal before, or glass.”