By Sadiah Moid

Staff Writer

Standing out in the warm sunshine, Hannah Altshuler,2007 BHS alumni, studies a crate of stoplight colored vegetables. Intrigued, she snatches up a single contorted pepper; after all, that is all the inspiration she needs for her next creative painting.

This was the life of Altshuler two years ago as she studied abroad inCortona,Italy, and earned her degrees in art education and painting from theUniversityofIllinois. Portions of her days were spent at the local produce market in order to get a closer look at these interesting bell peppers she couldn’t stop thinking about. ” While studying there, I found myself going to the local produce stand everyday, where they would sell the most unusual looking bell peppers,” Altshuler said. “I initially bought peppers because they are my favorite vegetable to eat, but then after cutting one open, I realized how beautiful they really are.”

After close observation, she became more intrigued by the fact that these peppers had many resemblances to the human figure. Her paintings are inspired by this and most often include the vegetable as well some human body parts. At first, this was the message she was trying to portray until recently when she decided to make her paintings more hands-on. “My initial intent was to paint the bell peppers in ways that are suggestive of human body parts. However, this past year, I began using my paintings as tools to facilitate social interactions with food,” Altshuler said. “By being on large scale un-stretched canvas, I am able to use the paintings as table clothes or picnic blankets for various food-related communal rituals.”

Since this new addition to her art, she is curious how this is going to affect the audience’s interaction with it. “I am interested in how these paintings can bring people together in food-related contexts,” Altshuler said. “For example, at one point, I invited friends to make and eat soup on tables covered with some of my paintings.”

As for now, she is student teaching art atBarbaraB.RoseElementary Schooland says she currently doesn’t have as much time to paint as she used to. However when she does, she creates work similar to her bell peppers. “I have an obsession with fruits and vegetables that appear abnormal looking [compared] to the standard produce we see in grocery stores,” Altshuler said. “I am talking about squash that twists and contorts around itself, tomatoes with tumor-looking lumps, mutated eggplants, etc.”

Until September 24th, Altshuler’s artwork will be displayed in the Clair E. Smith Art Gallery here at BHS where each year, they begin the showcases with an alumni collection. “I chose Hannah because we’re always looking for alumni and her name surfaced,” the Fine Arts department head Julie Salk said. “I’ll ask my staff if anyone has any suggestions and it happened to be nice that she’s student teaching in the area so it all seemed to work out.”

Out of all the alumni that have attended BHS, it seems as if finding someone like Altshuler was going to be similar to finding a needle in a haystack. Of course, there were certainly some aspects of her paintings that set her apart from the others. “Hannah has wonderful concentration in her art and this is something the AP Art classes can use to see what concentration looks like and how it can be used,” Ms. Salk said. “The gallery is always a learning tool and this is always available to the students and staff.”
Alexandra Stevenson, Altshuler’s past art teacher, even agreed that her artwork’s color and concentration are what sets her apart from everyone else. “Hannah has always had a unique sense of color,” Ms. Stevenson said. Even when Altshuler was a student in her classroom, Ms. Stevenson said she had no doubts that her work would take her far. “She was always so reflective and thoughtful,” Stevenson said. “And she has this natural way of approaching students that it doesn’t surprise me that she is going to be an art teacher.”
Altshuler’s intriguing artwork has not only been getting positive reactions from teachers, but as well as students looking at it for pure entertainment. “It’s fun for them because her art is really colorful and it’s large scale. A lot of kids don’t think they can create art on a scale that large, plus it’s really fun to look at,” Ms. Salk said. “The gallery is always open to students and it’s always nice if some of them stop in to just kind of relax and take a look at the art.”

There’s no doubt Altshuler has incredible talent and she should certainly keep expressing her creativity on bell peppers and the human body. Even though she may not have as much time or space, she still plans on continuing her paintings of contorted vegetables. “I seek them out at farmers markets to photograph, draw, and paint on a small scale, and I hope to continue these on a larger scale and incorporate social interaction as I did with my pepper paintings.”