The SHP alumna and Stanford University senior says art teacher Peggy O’Leary was 'most influential'
Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton (SHS) alumna Asha Ravi (SHP ’17) has been named a recipient of the J.E. Wallace Sterling Scholastic Award for distinguished academic performance at Stanford University. The award is presented to the top 25 students in the graduating senior class in the School of Humanities and Sciences. Ravi is majoring in art practice with a minor in architectural design.
Each award recipient is asked to name their most influential secondary school teacher; Ravi chose to select SHP art teacher Peggy O’Leary for that distinction.
“I am beyond honored to be recognized by Sterling Award recipient Asha Ravi as someone who ‘guided her through her formative years,’” said O’Leary. “As I step away from my career at Sacred Heart, this could not come at a better time to remind me of what I have always worked towards: providing a secure, creative, and productive environment for all students, Asha included. Asha and I spent a great deal of time together in the art studio; it was a joy to see her grow in confidence, and artistry. Brava Asha!”
O’Leary is retiring from SHS this June, after 32 years of teaching many generations of young and talented artists.
We sat down with Ravi to interview her about her time at SHS, and how O’Leary inspired her to make the practice of art a lifelong pursuit.
Can you describe why you chose Ms. O'Leary as your most influential teacher? What about her style of teaching helped encourage your love of art and development as an artist?
I thought it made sense to acknowledge Ms. O’Leary because she helped me deepen my understanding of art in high school. I don’t think I would’ve studied art at the college level if it weren’t for her Studio Art classes, which gave me the confidence to take more advanced classes at Stanford.
Something I appreciated about Ms. O’Leary’s teaching is that she encouraged my classmates and I to experiment with a variety of media before choosing a focus area. Before I decided to make drawing my focus area, I had the opportunity to dabble in painting, collage, and pastels, among other media.
In addition to learning different media, I enjoyed being able to create art that spoke to my appreciation of nature and the outdoors. In the summer after my junior year at SHP, I volunteered at the farm, where I helped supervise the animals. Given my experience, Ms. O’Leary encouraged me to create a series of animal portraits for my concentration in AP Studio Art, which I took in my senior year. I ended up making about a dozen colored-pencil and -pastel drawings of the animals I photographed at the farm, especially the goats. Pacing myself to create this series wasn’t easy but doing so taught me the time management skills necessary to succeed in my college art classes.
Overall, I think my SHP art classes helped me learn to work at a fast pace and adopt a flexible, experimental mindset toward art-making that has been helpful in college. I’ve noticed that being open to trying different art forms has been important to my art practice throughout the years. Having the freedom to do this under Ms. O’Leary’s guidance made me more comfortable picking up new skills in college, from woodworking to digital photography. Thanks to the availability of art classes at SHP, I’ve developed the persistence to keep improving as an artist.
Describe how those classroom experiences helped influence or inspire you to pursue an art major/architecture minor at Stanford?
My background in drawing is part of what motivated me to study art and architecture at Stanford. I think it’s important to acknowledge that I developed this background in high school. Ms. O’Leary’s classroom was a space where I could practice drawing as much as I wanted. I remember in Studio Art, my classmates and I were required to keep sketchbooks, where we would respond to assignment prompts from Ms. O’Leary. These prompts included sketching portraits of friends and family, drawing still life objects, and making mini collages, among others. As an exercise, this forced me to make drawing a regular habit. I began to see drawing as a way to observe and reflect on my surroundings, which made art a meditative experience for me. More broadly, I liked having the freedom to express myself visually, which set Studio Art apart from my other classes.
Because I wanted to continue my creative work past high school, I decided to combine art and architecture in college. I was interested in seeing what an art major would offer me beyond the skills I was familiar with. Like I mentioned earlier, I branched out beyond drawing to learn other media. Two of my favorite art forms include photography and painting, and I feel that learning them has broadened my art practice. In addition to studying art, I was interested in design, something I was able to test out through architecture classes.
I found myself drawn to architecture for a similar reason to art: I like being able to envision something tangible, such as a building, using my imagination. I think that art and architecture deal with making the intangible tangible, and the ability to think abstractly is important to both. Something I like about architecture is that it involves analyzing the conditions of a specific site—including light, weather, and landscaping—and using them to shape a built design. My ability to carefully observe my surroundings is something that I’ve been developing since high school. My classroom experiences at SHP made me a more observational person, which has helped with the visual thinking required for my college art and design classes.
What are your future plans, career-wise?
Regarding my plans, I’ve known for a while that I’ve wanted to do something creative. While I enjoy art and architecture equally, I’m leaning toward the latter as a potential career.
After I graduate, I want to work at an architecture firm for a couple years. Once I’ve gained some work experience, I’ll apply to graduate architecture programs. Right now, I’m beginning the process of applying for jobs at different firms. I expect the application and interview process to take a few months before I find work somewhere.
What are some projects or pieces of artwork you’d like to share with us?
A charcoal drawing of myself (based on my senior portrait) and a couple more works from a painting class I took in my sophomore year [of college]. One of the paintings, entitled Autumnal Composition (2019), is a still life with an animal skull, palm branch, and corn husks. The other, Translucent Rose (2019), is a painting I completed for my final project. I saw it as an exercise in playing with my technique, stylizing my work in a way that blends realism and impressionism.
O’Leary has held on to artwork Ravi completed during her time at SHP, and shared a piece depicting the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which appeared as the cover art for Ravi's graduation Mass.