Twenty-nine Solvang middle schoolers were recently tasked with applying their photography skills to American transcendentalist writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau’s famous quote: “All good things are wild and free.” The result is a full online art exhibition entitled "Inspired by Nature," featured by the Wildling Museum.

According to the museum's Executive Director Stacey Otte-Demangate, the 7th and 8th graders turned their lenses to nature, focusing on color and contrast, symmetry, and depth of field to achieve their vision. Many she said found inspiration in their own backyards with subjects ranging from pets and family members, to local landscapes and sunsets captured in both color and black and white. 

“Natural beauty can truly be discovered anywhere, and if this show helped students discover the outdoors and ignited their creativity through photography, it’s already an incredible achievement,” said Otte-Demangate.

Behind the project was three-year Media and Yearbook Advisor Alyssa Spanier, who has taught at Solvang schools for the past five years.

She says students in her class are challenged with both individual and group projects that deal in various media forms including print, digital, video, and audio. In addition to exploring photography and the elements of design to develop the school yearbook, the students also engage in community-driven projects.

“Solvang School is very excited about our partnership with the Wildling Museum to create this exhibit and share our students’ work with the community for the second year in a row,” said Spanier.

Judging the students’ work and selecting the top three along with honorable mentions, was former Los Angeles Times and NFL professional photographer George Rose.

Rose awarded first place to Itzel Medina for a black and white portrait titled, “When Serenity Calms the Storm.” Second place went to “A Settled Leaf” by Sophia Delacruz, and third place was awarded to Naomi Ferguson for “A Walk to Peace.” Honorable mentions were awarded to Amy Rodriguez Buenrostro for “Be Fearless,” Shannon Morehouse for “Behind the Clouds,” and Addie Shelly for “Growing Wild and Free.”

“These students presented a great diversity of subject matter with thoughtful captions all capturing their assigned theme,” said Rose. “I was impressed to see black and white photography included in the exhibit, as it’s often the most difficult to transfer to print. These students should be commended for their photography skills.”

The Wildling Museum’s student gallery can be viewed online at

A Righetti High School art student has put her last two weeks of sheltering at home to good use by helping in the battle against COVID-19. Madison “Madi” Curran started sewing safety masks for family March 21 and is now turning them out for Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

Lisa André covers Valley Life for Santa Ynez Valley News.