Inspiration radiates from the cork bulletin board of Brenna Bruggeman's bustling art studio, the multi-colored Post-Its fluttering ever so slightly in the rarified air where Bruggeman produces some of her most visionary work. "Anything that comes into my head—even if it's just a word or a phrase, I pin it up on the wall, and I explore it," said Bruggeman, a Sierra Canyon junior. "It's my brain dump."
This is the room where it happens, the place where Bruggeman's vision becomes a splendid reality. She has an entire arsenal at her disposal—paint brushes, canvases, fabrics, pencils, clay, scissors, colors, sparkles—all poised and at the ready as different projects come to life. Sometimes she will forgo her stool and attack the canvas head-on, pouring her energy into her art with striking results.
"The freedom that comes with expressing ideas is incredible," Bruggeman says. "I have so many ideas, and I get so excited. I move back and forth. I can't focus on one thing. "Art has always been an outlet for me."
Her creativity is off the charts. Every stroke has meaning. Every decision has intention. Her drawings and paintings display maturity beyond her years. Her sculptures are captivating and enthralling. Her avant-garde makeup is the stuff of legend throughout campus.
She plays the ukulele and has sung and danced in the school talent shows. She was part of the first Sierra Canyon Dance Team. She played first violin in the Sierra Canyon Rock Band. She maintains a 4.5 grade-point average and has been on the Head of School List as a freshman and sophomore, and is a member of the National Junior Honor Society.
Bruggeman's diverse portfolio makes her an obvious choice for the Sierra Canyon #StudentFirst award that recognizes brilliance both in and out of the classroom.
"She's a Renaissance woman," says Wendy Northup, Sierra Canyon's Fine Arts Chair. "She really lives and breathes art. Her drawing and painting abilities are just so advanced, and she has unbelievable skill and sophistication. What I am really impressed with is her openness to trying new ideas and working with different materials."
Bruggeman's mother is a graphic designer, and her father is a photographer, so she has always had an artistic eye. The pandemic gave her a lot more time to tap into her creative mode. Most students would be happy with one piece of art recognized in the Scholastic Art competition. Bruggeman had nine pieces garner recognition, including three Gold Key artworks for the state's highest honor. Now they are up for national consideration.
Her painting, "Ignorance Is Blind," shows an American flag with a face mask covering the eyes of an anti-masker who is choking the ventilator of a COVID-19 patient. It featured sophisticated layering to add a different dimension to the piece. "I was inspired by the political mask issues that were being brought up, and it angered me enough to inspire me to make something," Bruggeman said.
Her two sculptures that earned Gold Keys from Scholastic Art were both similar and striking. "Weight on the Shoulders" featured a nondescript figure being pushed down by a powerful force represented by ambiguous colored weights on its back, leaving the meaning open to different interpretations. Bruggeman had the idea based on the pressure students feel in school. Her "Wilt" sculpture showed a figure falling into the ground while its soul appears to be rising from the body. It had colorful flowers as if the soul were pushing up through the ground —that served as a stark contrast to the image being portrayed. Bruggeman said this death-like scene had COVID inspiration. "I am always thinking about the different ways I can push my idea or feelings," Bruggeman said. "I experiment. I see what works. But I like the risk. There's always a little bit of fear, but I am not afraid to be myself."
Bruggeman has been experimenting with claymation and won a silver medal when she entered her work in the SC Film Festival at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood. Her entry was a stop-animation work for turning a deteriorating dollhouse into a nightmarish dream house that is breathtaking and exquisitely detailed. "I'm impressed with her openness to trying new ideas and new materials," Northup said. "She is quite the talent."
She also has participated in summer arts programs at The Putney School, the famed boarding school in Vermont, and the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. Her artwork has helped her garner several awards, including the Visual Arts Department Award last year as a sophomore, and a certificate of appreciation for Performing Arts as a freshman. She is also the Publicity Chair of the National French Honors Society and a gold-medal winner for Le Grand Concours National French Competition.
"I appreciate that she is very humble and very kind. There's no arrogance about her, even though her work is exceptional," Northup said. Bruggeman's avant-garde makeup has garnered quite a following, with over 5,000 followers on her Instagram makeup page. Every Halloween, Bruggeman puts together a spectacular avant-garde costume, waking up at 4:00 a.m. to do her makeup, which typically stops students in their tracks. She was issued a special invitation to do the makeup for Sierra Canyon's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and has performed in the "Addams Family Musical." According to Northup, the yearbook dedicated an entire page to her makeup.
World Languages Department Chair Ines du Cos de La Hitte has taught Bruggeman for five consecutive years and offered her students extra credit if they came to class to share their report on a historical figure in full costume. Bruggeman chose Vincent Van Gogh, with the appropriate clothing, a palette, smock, and orange beard. "Her projects are not the typical ones. She goes into great detail, and she does so very artistically and beautifully. She's the best at what she does," du Cos de La Hitte says. "Her vocabulary range, her writing ability —she always has interesting things to say. She's engaged, polite, the nicest girl. She's always smiling, always in a good mood, and that's hard to do at that age."
Bruggeman also used her creativity to start her own charity— Kre8tivity Is Key (KIK). It has provided art kits to underprivileged children for the past six years. She also donated art kits to stranded immigrant children in San Antonio. "I want to kickstart their inner creativity and give them an outlet," Bruggeman said. She spearheads the fundraising efforts, handpicks the art supplies, and comes up with an art lesson that will resonate with the group. She said she takes special pride in working with special education students. "The best part is handing the kits to the kids and seeing their reactions," she says.
Her charitable efforts also netted her several awards, including the Prudential Spirit of Community Award, certificate of excellence for her KIK charity, and two President's Volunteer Service Awards.
Bruggeman says her ultimate goal would be to attend the Rhode Island School of Design to continue to hone her artwork.
Her future is a blank canvas.
"My parents are artists, and I have always seen the world through the eyes of artists. Walking down the street, I might see a wall with paint chips and rust, and I will visualize all the artistic possibilities."
"There are so many different things I have yet to explore."Click here
to see Brenna's #StudentFirst video.