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Young artist receives VSA Wisconsin award

Houlton Elementary fifth-grader Joey Repphun is the Young Adult Merit Award Winner for the Call for Art Wisconsin 2019 contest, the one and only award in the 5-10 year-old category. He was honored May 4 at VSA WI Art Gallery in Madison. Repphun was inspired by the street artist, James Rizzi and his whimsical skyscraper paintings. Repphun’s painting, called “NEW YORK, New York” is a watercolor painting of New York City skyscrapers. He is pictured with art teacher Cynthia Burak-Gresmer. Submitted photo1 / 3
Joey Repphun (right) is shown with his mom Brycie Wasson, in Madison. The photo was taken during a recent trip taken because Repphun was receiving a VSA Child Merit Award for his artwork. Photo courtesy of Brycie Wasson 2 / 3
Joey Repphun's "NEW YORK! New York!" work earned him a Child Merit award from VSA Wisconsin. He is one of two Hudson students to have received the award. A second grade student received the award last year, according to art teacher Cynthia Burak-Gresmer. Photo courtesy of Brycie Wasson 3 / 3

Brycie Wasson has a genetic eye condition that means she needs to use thicker glasses, and has lower vision.

"When I was young, the culture was all about kind of fitting in, and blending in, not self-advocating," Wasson said. "I'm still, even to this day, really just not great at asking for help."

When her son Joey Repphun was born with the same condition, she wanted to make sure he didn't feel held back by low vision.

"I worked so hard to teach Joey not to feel any limitation, just to do what he loves," Wasson said.

Reppuhn has developed a love of drawing and art.

"It's something that we're trying to foster, because he's pretty good at it," Wasson said.

Wasson is proud of her son and enjoys seeing his creativity in art.

In fact, a piece of Reppuhn's art earned him a VSA of Wisconsin Child Merit Award this year.

Reppuhn's art teacher, Cynthia Burak-Gresmer, submitted his artwork to the statewide competition.

VSA is an organization founded by the Kennedy Family. According to the VSA Wisconsin website (vsawis.org), the VSA Wisconsin mission is "to expand the capabilities, confidence and quality of life for children and adults with disabilities by providing programs in dance, drama, creative writing, music and visual art."

Burak-Gresmer said there is a VSA affiliate in each state.

"I really bought into the beautiful work that these people do," she said.

The contest is judged by artists and people with an art background from the Madison area, Burak-Gresmer said.

Reppuhn created a New York City skyline for his project, Burak-Gresmer said.

"It's called 'New York! New York!'" Reppuhn said of his artwork, "and it's basically the skyline of New York, and all the buildings have cartoon faces.

"I have the Empire State Building, Times Square building, the Chrysler Building, a clock tower, the One World Trade Center."

Reppuhn used pencil and watercolors to create his art piece.

Burak-Gresmer said Reppuhn put in about 10 hours of time total. He not only worked on his picture during art class, but also during his recess time.

Burak-Gresmer said, as a teacher, she was extremely proud of his work ethic and his artwork.

She said she had taught her students about foreground, middle ground and background in artwork.

"And he just knocked it out of the park," Burak-Gresmer said. "He did every area just delightfully, you can read it like a story."

Reppuhn said Burak-Gresmer is a great art teacher, who was very encouraging.

Reppuhn, who just finished fifth grade at Houlton Elementary, has been "obsessed" with clock towers since before he could talk, Wasson said.

"Clocks have always been a fascination," she said. "His bedroom is full of clocks. It sounds like something out of Peter Pan."

His interest in clocks and clock towers grew, and expanded to include an interest in architecture in recent years, Wasson said. Their family has taken several trips so Reppuhn could tour different buildings in New York and Madison.

Wasson and Reppuhn went to Madison for an awards ceremony recently, when he received the Child Merit Award. Wasson said they made it a point to tour buildings such as the State Capitol.

"The ultimate goal is to get to London when Big Ben is operational again," Wasson said.

The trip to Madison and the VSA awards ceremony was special to Wasson and Reppuhn in different ways too, Wasson said. For example, she was impressed with the artwork on display at the showing following the award presentation. She said she was "kind of blown away," especially by some of the artists who had severe mental disabilities.

"You put a pencil or a paintbrush in their hands, and it all just melts away," she said.

Reppuhn thought it was "pretty interesting and cool."

"There were so many different pieces of art, and I really like art," he said, "so I like to see all the different art."

After the art show, Wasson and Joey ran into a street artist who was making a painting using spray paint of the New York skyline with the U. S. flag in the background.

"We told the artist our story," Wasson said, "and he gave that piece to Joey as a gift, and he gave him a big high-five."

Wasson said that's only one way that she saw art bringing people together on this trip.

"It's just super validating," she said, "the way the disabled community has changed in a recent generation, and not being afraid to get out there in the world and be their true selves and bring their gifts and showcase those."

Wasson said seeing the artists come together, especially those of differing abilities, was "very inspirational."

"I can't really tell you the last time I felt so inspired," she said.

To anyone who might be worried about trying art or something new, Reppuhn said he'd say:

"Go for it. Don't hesitate, just dive right in."

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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