Triad teen’s back X-ray inspired her winning drawing

Jennifer Clifton’s entry into Art on the Square was a detailed charcoal drawing of a back X-ray.

You may have seen it if you checked out the 200 pieces of high school artwork on display at Belleville’s Bank of America. The large piece entitled “Screwed Up” won her best of show in the high school category.

She created the work, complete with screws, rods and a screwdriver turning the bottom screw, for an advanced studio art class at Triad High School.

“I thought it would be cool to do an X-ray,” said the 18-year-old who graduated summa cum laude on May 22. “I was looking online at X-rays of things. I was thinking of doing X-rayed flowers.”

Then, she thought about the screws in her back.

“I had scoliosis really bad,” Jennifer said. “They did a spinal fusion to correct it when I was in eighth grade. It’s pretty much healed all the way. It still hurts, but I have gotten used to it.”

Jennifer, tall and trim with long dark hair, also has brittle bone disease, osteogenesis imperfecta, caused by a genetic mutation.

“I had a lot of broken bones when I was younger, two or three fractures a year,” she said. “When you are a kid, you jump around and are more active. It gets better in adulthood. You learn to live with it.”

She was never able to participate in sports, and shouldn’t lift more than five pounds. The school supplied her with a set of books at home so she didn’t have to carry heavy books back and forth, said her mom, Doris, a regional sales rep at Scott Air Force Base.

“She wanted to do (dancing in middle school), but I had to tell her no,” Doris said. “It broke my heart when I told you you weren’t allowed to do it.”

Jennifer Clifton was in Triad art teacher Jennifer Keller’s classes all four years.

“Freshman year she was super quiet,” Keller said. “She sat and listened. She became more assertive. She learned how to express herself through art. She became more open.”

Her art skills grew, as well.

“She is able to express how she feels about certain things going on in her life. She came up with the idea about the X-ray and surgery. I thought it was special. It was an illustration of the procedure she has gone through. It was technically very well done. She’s technically excellent at what she does. It took the right people to see what I saw in it.”

Jennifer estimated the piece took her a couple months to complete, at school and at home.

“Art classes are only 50 minutes,” she said. “I like to work on something a long time — for hours I work in my room or at the kitchen counter.”

“We try to stay out of her way,” Doris said. “We know the results will be great.”

Jennifer learned she won Best of Show during Art on the Square’s awards ceremony.

“I thought I had a pretty good chance to get some award,” she said. “I didn’t think I would get Best of Show. They started calling out awards. Best of show was last. I thought, ‘OK, I guess I am not getting anything.’ I was disappointed, but then I got it. I won $500. It will go toward college.”

Q: What do you like about art?

A: “You can express different ideas through art. Even as a kid I liked it. I wasn’t good. I just did the little children’s drawings that all kids do. I didn’t really start trying hard at it till freshman year. I did a flower painting. It turned out pretty well. A realistic drawing with graphite.”

Q: Favorite medium?

A: “I like doing graphite and charcoal. I find them easy to work with. Graphite is pencil lead. You have to work harder to make graphite dark. Charcoal is black instead of grayish.”

Q: How did you happen to enter Art on the Square’s contest?

A: “My teacher (Jennifer Keller) wanted me to enter. I think they get to choose five from each school. I had it framed because I liked it. For Art on the Square I had to get a different frame because it was 4 inches too big. (In the process,) I broke the glass. We had to get new glass within the hour, a big hassle. Dad knew a guy who does glass cutting. We got it cut really quick. The comment at the show was, ‘I think it should have had a better frame.’ It did.”

Q: What do you plan to do with your winning artwork?

A: “I’m thinking of donating it to Shriners Hospital. That’s where I got the back surgery done. I was in the hospital a week, out of school for a month.”

Q: What do you plan to do this summer?

A: “Maybe get a job and work on art. I finally get the chance to read more books.”

Q: Which are you more proud of, graduating summa cum laude, or your best-of-show award?

A: “I’m more proud of best of show. I feel like school achievements are important, but so are our personal achievements.”

About Jennifer

  • Family: parents Doris and Bryan, and brother Max, 21 (“We’re a military family. Dad is Army and my brother is in the Marines.”) She also has a wiener dog named Lieutenant.
  • Honors: Class secretary, graduated summa cum laude from Triad High School, Illinois State Scholar
  • Clubs: Was part of 15, including Envirothon, Model U.N., Ethics and Scholar Bowl (Math, art and pop culture are her categories). She played oboe and percussion in the school band.
  • Favorite subject: “Psychology and I really like math. I’m a logical thinker.”
  • Food: Spaetzle (German noodles)
  • Restaurant: “Peel. I like their cheese pizza or margherita pizza.”
  • Artist: “Salvador Dali. A current one is Kate Powell (a 20-year-old English illustrator). Alex Grey does really detailed work.”
  • College: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she plans to double major in psychology and statistics and minor in philosophy. I want to keep art as a hobby.”
  • Music: “I really like Foxing, a band from St. Louis.”
  • Movie: “The Matrix”
  • Reading: “I like science fiction. Harry Potter books are classics. I liked ‘1984’ by George Orwell. I would recommend ‘The Future of the Mind’ (by Michio Kaku), a book about where technology is heading. It’s about how the brain works, too.”
  • Car: “I drive a minivan.” Said Mom Doris: “The one she got from Mom. It gets her to school and back.”
  • With friends: “I like going to concerts and bonfires. We drive on the backroads a lot. We like to go hiking. I’ve been hiking in Carlyle, the Edwardsville Watershed (Nature Center).”
  • With family: “We like to go out to eat and watch movies together.”
  • Volunteer job: At Petco in Fairview Heights for Bond County Humane Society. “I just take care of dogs and cats there. I take dogs for walks, and sometimes clean cages.”
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