Art shows another side of Portsmouth

By Ryan Ottney

October 6, 2013

Ryan Scott Ottney

PDT Staff Writer

When New York artist Traci Molloy was invited to lead a project for art students at Portsmouth High School, the first thing she did was Google the city, and she was not happy with what she found. But much like art itself, Molloy quickly realized Portsmouth’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

“I think Portsmouth, I don’t know much about it but I saw some of the murals and they’re phenomenal. I just drove downtown and it’s so cute. You’ve got these awesome, old buildings. Look at these storefronts, they look fantastic! Unfortunately, if you Google Portsmouth — because that’s the first thing I did. I go to Wikipedia and I have to research because I don’t know the town. Some of the information that comes forth becomes the negative stereotypes of the community,” Molloy said. “That’s what I think the exciting thing about this project is. We can shatter that.”

Originally from a small town in Vermont, Molloy studied art at Ohio University and now lives in New York where she works in the Bronx community with underserved kids. She was invited by the University of Rio Grande and the South Central Ohio Educational Services Center (ESC) to participate in the program at Portsmouth High School.

“So far it’s been an awesome experience. I think she immediately helped them feel comfortable and they immediately connected with her,” said Portsmouth Art Teacher April Deacon on Wednesday. “So far they have been sketching and doing a lot of overlays with tracing paper, trying to decide what their design is going to be.”

Molloy has spent the last week collaborating with high school students at Portsmouth to create a series of prints.

“We’re doing a two-fold project. We’re dealing with portraiture, so we’re talking a lot about identity. I’ve taken a series of headshots, and what students are doing is they are going to play with these headshots. I will be painting their portrait in a fairly traditional manner, so it’ll be a black and white image. Then they’re going to create the imagery that goes on top. So they’re going to come up with the colors, the patterns, the designs. Then we’re doing a secondary project, which is going to be a composite. I’m going to take all nine of them and merge them together and create one sort of composite teenager from Portsmouth.”

Students will add text art to the composite portrait, using sentences that start with the phrases, “I am,” “I will,” and “I’m afraid.” After they finished this week, students took their art to the University of Rio Grande on Friday to have them printed. Each student received a print of their work. Two copies of each of their prints was given to Molloy to display in her shows, and two more copies stayed in the Rio Grande permanent collection.

Molloy’s copies will also to be featured in an exhibit at Rio Grande in March, and during a lecture in San Francisco in March.

“The finished project is not going to be my work; it’s going to be our work. The kids’ contribution to the piece will be noticeable, and my contribution will be noticeable, but it truly is all of us coming together,” Molloy said.

Portsmouth senior Nia Reeves said her print will display the two sides of herself — the side she shows to people, and the side she does not. Classmate Mark Clark, a junior at Portsmouth, said his work is about feelings, and how people keep things bottled up inside.

“I think it’s the best opportunity ever. Because I love art, and it’s just so cool to have the opportunity where other people can see what you’ve done, and they don’t know anything about you, but they’ll get ideas about you. It’s just fantastic,” Reeves said.

Clark said he always enjoys Deacon’s art class, and being able to explore the creative process on his own.

“When I see that I messed up, I’ll ask Mrs. Deacon and instead of saying, ‘let me see it,’ she’ll help me through it and tell me what I did wrong and allow me to redo it,” he said.

That process of discovery is why art is so important in our lives, Molloy said.

“Lots of times, art is sort of pushed aside. They say, ‘Oh, you need math, you need science,’ but this is where you solve problems. In life, every job you have you have a problem and you have to solve it, and art is the same thing. I’ve given these guys an assignment. It’s wide open. Solve this problem,” Molloy said. “You stumble, and you fall, and you have to get up.”

She said she has been very excited to see the work being created in Deacon’s class at Portsmouth High School.

“Just look around this room. You have no idea how many art classes I’ve been in throughout the country. There is good stuff happening in here. This is no joke. I can go in a room, and in a few minutes assess if there’s art magic or if there’s art disaster. I’ve been in high schools where the high school art teacher is teaching them how to cut snowflakes. That is not art. That is what we do in kindergarten. So to build an arts education program you need something that starts from elementary school all the way up,” Molloy said.

For more information about Molloy and her art, visit her online at, and at Her artwork is also on display at shows in Jackson and Pittsburgh.

Ryan Scott Ottney may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 287, or For breaking news, follow Ryan on Twitter @PDTwriter.