September 5, 2019 | By Amanda Sieradzki
PCCA’s Newest Arts Faculty
Member Graduated from
Pinellas County Center for the Arts
“We love a challenge,” declares the largest poster hanging in Stephanie McKee’s classroom. As an artist, it’s also the code she lives by.
McKee might be the newest faculty member at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts (PCCA) at Gibbs High School, but she is no stranger to its halls. McKee graduated third in her class in 2007. A Walker’s Rising Stars scholarship recipient, she went on to study at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.
Now, McKee teaches painting and printmaking in the same classroom as her late PCCA teacher, Mr. Laurance Miller who taught in the program for 30 years. She describes her mentor as a kind and patient man, the spitting image of Vincent van Gogh. McKee wrote her name next to his on the old toolbox he left behind and uses his artistic instruments every day.
“Something he said that always stuck with me was, ‘why act like a student artist when you can act like a professional artist?’” recalls McKee. “I believed him. Even though this school has incredible technical training, it’s really those bigger ideas that are most impactful.”
McKee plans on carrying that torch during her tenure. Yoko Nogami, who serves as chairperson of the Visual Arts department at PCCA, is looking forward to the vigor McKee will bring to the students. McKee is already tapping back into the familial atmosphere that distinguishes PCCA from other programs, something Nogami expects will strengthen alumni relations in years to come.
“She knows what we are,” says Nogami. “I think for a teacher to know that community feeling and understand how you live in that family for four years makes a huge difference in how they teach.”
For McKee, this means teaching the importance of value as a compositional element. One of her first assignments in printmaking involved using Q-tips, sticks, rags and cheesecloth to subtract highlights from a plate of ink. McKee recalls completing a similar exercise when she was a student and how it unlocked her brain in terms of interpreting light and dark to render the world around her.
Poetry is another avenue into her creative process as she absorbs the natural scenery peppered throughout Pablo Neruda and Mary Oliver’s words. A St. Pete native, McKee’s love for the ocean is a constant throughout her work. At the moment McKee is experimenting with abstract representations of water in painting, mixed media and portraiture.
Her self-portrait still hangs in PCCA’s permanent collection, a study on humans’ relationship with light and the beyond.
With her sights already set on the January faculty exhibition, McKee is relishing the fervor with which her students make and consume art. She is driven to bring about more community awareness and appreciation of the arts programs at Gibbs, which she considers to be “a diamond in the rough” in the Pinellas County School system.
“It’s one of the best magnet programs in the country,” says McKee. “In high school you have this energy and the sketchbooks are bursting with so many awesome ideas and images. That’s what they’re reminding me of, to just go for it.”