Walking the halls at the Carver Center for Arts and Technology, Principal Joseph Freed stops every few feet to point out a drawing or painting and list the honors its artist has won.
There is the sketch, meticulously detailed, of the school boiler room, and there is the painting of a woman in a bathtub. The artists were both national award winners.
The Towson magnet high school has long been viewed as an artistic powerhouse. Yesterday, that reputation was solidified with the announcement that seven of 25 finalists in a national visual arts competition are Carver students -- a feat that competition organizers said is unprecedented.
"We've never had a school with seven national finalists in the visual arts discipline in our 24-year history," said Christopher Schram, vice president of programs for the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, sponsor of the Arts Recognition and Talent Search competition.
Schram said Carver has become recognized as one of the top five visual arts high schools in the country.
The seven finalists, five of them seniors and two 2004 graduates, who submitted their work as seniors, will spend a week in Miami next month, where a panel of judges will evaluate their works and the students will create new ones with professional artists.
Each will receive a cash award of $500 to $10,000. This year's five seniors are eligible to be nominated as Presidential Scholars in the Arts.
Joining them in Miami will be eight other students from Maryland, including one student each from Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts in Dundalk, Towson High School, Calvert Hall College High School and the Baltimore School for the Arts.
Judges did not know applicants' names or the schools they attend, rating their work using identification numbers, Schram said.
Carver is also well-known to organizers of another national competition, the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. They say Carver is one of a few dozen schools nationally that produces a stream of winning artists.
"In every one of those situations, it's because there is a teacher or a team of teachers invested in helping their students excel," said Chuck Wentzel, associate director of the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, the nonprofit organization that administers the Scholastic awards.
Both Schram and Wentzel point to Carver's painting and drawing teacher, Theresa McDaniel, and her colleagues in the art department as a major force behind the students' success. They said McDaniel allows students to develop their own style.
Carver admits 60 students a year to its visual arts program based on a portfolio that must include a self-portrait, a landscape and a drawing of a piece of work at a museum, according to visual arts chairman Joseph Giordano.
While grades are not a consideration in admission to the school, which offers programs in subjects including carpentry and cosmetology, Carver consistently posts test scores that are among the highest in the state.
"These kids are amazing academically as well as artistically," Freed said. "Having the students here because of something they love has been the hook."
After learning the fundamentals of drawing as freshmen, visual arts students gain the freedom to experiment in painting, sculpture and other art forms, Giordano said.
"We're taught the foundational rules of drawing and painting, and then we're told we can break them," said Amy Reid, 17, of Towson, one of Carver's seven finalists.
One day this past summer, Reid decided to stay awake for 24 hours, drawing or photographing a self-portrait every hour. Last month, she photocopied pictures from her father's 1972 high school yearbook and created a multimedia work with hundreds of faces altered by such materials as rope and gum wrappers.
Having the 'gift'
Reid is one of 24 seniors with studio space at the school. The studios have walls painted with self-portraits and quotations such as: "The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without the work."
In her space, torn-up couches and half-empty juice bottles are scattered. Artwork is hanging from the ceiling, piled against the walls, spread across the floor.
Another of the finalists, Abdullahi M. Farah of Owings Mills, has a studio filled with paintings and a sculpture of his mother, who is willing to pose for hours on end.
Leah Fassbender of Halethorpe found a willing sculpture subject in her miniature dachshund, Peanut.
As the students gathered yesterday to discuss their work, McDaniel listed a slew of awards that Farah has won.
McDaniel also showed another of Fassbender's sculptures in the hall and urged a visitor to see a dance production featuring masks made by finalist Shannon Wenker.
She said she is especially proud of the camaraderie among the art students, who routinely critique each other's work.
"They feed off each other," she said. "They're all completely immersed in art."
These Maryland students are among 130 national finalists in the Arts Recognition and Talent Search sponsored by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts:
Visual Arts Category
Robert Louis Burlin, Calvert Hall College High School
Abdullahi M. Farah, Carver Center for Arts and Technology, Towson
Leah Dawn Fassbender, Carver
Jeremy Blake Hyman, Carver graduate
Talbolt Emanuel Johnson, Patapsco High School Center for the Arts, Dundalk
Dmitry Morozov, Carver graduate
Amy Catherine Reid, Carver
Rebecca R. Sugar, Albert Einstein High School, Kensington
Andrew James Tanner, Carver
Shannon Elizabeth Wenker, Carver
Peter Reardon-Anderson, Walt Whitman High School, Bethesda
Kuchipudi Classical Indian Dance Category
Pallavi Uppuluri, Winston Churchill High School, Potomac
Emily Clare Ames-Ledbetter, Towson High School
Sandra Wolf-Meei Cameron, Poolesville High School
Ashley Renee Batten, Baltimore School for the Arts
Source: National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts