Portrait of the artiste

Friends School senior Emilio Martinez poses for a picture with an original acrylic and fabric on cardboard piece entitled "Interactive Shape 1," at the school April 5. (Staff photo by Brian Krista / April 12, 2012)

Emilio Martinez's first exposure to art came early in life, when his parents took him to the Visionary Art Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

"I think I was, like, an infant," said the Roland Park native.

But his first exposure may have been even earlier, in his DNA.

"I've always had an affinity for art," he said.

Now 18 and a senior at Friends School, Martinez has won a gold medal in the 2012 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

The awards are promoted as the largest and longest-running arts national scholarship program for teens.

He will receive his medal at Carnegie Hall in New York on June 1. Past recipients include author Truman Capote, poet Sylvia Plath, pop artist Andy Warhol, actor Robert Redford and photographer Richard Avedon.

In addition, his winning sculpture, "Inside-Out House," will be on exhibit at the Parsons New School for Design in New York through June 16.

But the best is yet to come for Martinez — a distinction so prestigious that he still can't believe his good fortune.

He has been accepted to arguably the most prestigious and competitive art school in the nation, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, also in New York.

As well as a feather in his cap and Friends School's, his acceptance to Cooper Union is financial coup for his family.

Fortified by a $577 million endowment as of 2010, the 153-year-old art, engineering and architecture school offers full $37,500-a-year scholarships to each student.

Cooper Union is considering charging tuition for the first time in more than a century, reportedly due to money troubles in a weak economy. But even if the college does start charging tuition, it would not start with next year's freshmen.

"The class of fall 2012 will not be charged tuition," said Jolene Travis, a Cooper Union spokeswoman.

"I'm glad that my parents don't have to pay for college," Martinez said.

Childhood dreams

Martinez said his fascination with art can be traced all the back to his early visits to art museums. One that impressed him the most as a child was Alexander Calder's "100 Yard Dash," a massive, red steel sculpture at the BMA.

Martinez wrote his college entrance essay about his growth as an artist, "starting with my memory of that," he said.

"I still visit all the time."

As a student at a local Montessori school, Martinez said, he visited art classes at the Maryland Institute College of Art.