Shelby’s Emma Soelberg makes school history with her artistic talent

March 21, 2023

– Contributed photo

Shelby’s Emma Soelberg makes school history with her artistic talent

Tiger Pride is a presentation of Shelby Public Schools in partnership with Oceana County Press.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor

SHELBY — Senior Emma Soelberg is the first Shelby High School student to ever win the visual arts category of West Michigan Student Showcase with her self portrait, entitled “Escape.” 

With the award comes a $1,000 prize. “I’m excited to put that toward college,” said Emma, who plans to attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah next fall. “I’m just grateful and happy about it.”

A self-taught artist, Emma had not taken any art classes in school until now. With the final trimester at Shelby just underway, she was able to fit advanced art into her schedule.  “I never had room in my schedule for an art class until this trimester.

“I didn’t realize how much I loved art — I just did it on the side for fun.” Now, she plans to make it her career. 

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“I found that when I turned to art, it just made me feel better. I realized the more I did it, the more I loved it. When I do art, I always walk away feeling better.”

Working on the school yearbook triggered a fascination with design.

She took on the challenge of creating a self portrait because art offers personal meaning. “Art applies so much to me.”

The colorful butterflies flowing from the black and white portrait represent the freedom art provides. “I wanted it to symbolize that as I’ve looked to art, I’ve been set free and realized my potential and what I want to do in life.”

The artist spent about 50 hours creating the masterpiece. She started the project by taking a reference photograph in harsh lighting using a studio light. “That in itself was its own little project.”

She used colored pencils to create the butterflies that she cut out and glued onto the piece. Black and white pencils were utilized for the portrait and acrylic paint for the background. 

The artwork is still on display at the Frauenthal Theater in Muskegon, Showcase’s venue. 

A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Emma thinks BYU will be a perfect fit. “BYU is the school to go to if you’re in my religion. That environment is something that I will really love — having people with my standards there. And, BYU has an amazing arts program.”

Emma has excelled in cross country and soccer and is running track this spring. The Tiger earned all-state honors last fall in cross country.

The 18-year-old is also Shelby’s National Honor Society president and a key contributor to the Science Olympiad squad, earning a spot in the upcoming state competition with her brother Tanner Soelberg in the trajectory challenge. 

The student leader launched the Shelby High School Art Club last year. She met with school administrators and teachers to get it off the ground, and now the club includes over 20 students. The art club students collaborated to create a mural displayed in the school hallway of the school’s ESL (English as a Second Language) Assistant Carlos Santana. 

Another Oceana County student took top honors at Showcase this year. Pentwater junior Emily Schwarz finished first in the performing arts category with a stunning solo dance performance.

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