Chapin High School student finds beauty in unusual materials

Chapin High student Ashley Graham models her creative prom dress made of duct tape last spring. Photo courtesy of Lexington-Richland Five.

Chapin High student Ashley Graham models her creative prom dress made of duct tape last spring. Photo courtesy of Lexington-Richland Five.

Whether it’s fashion or sculpture, Chapin High School student Ashley Graham is finding that unusual – and sometimes sticky – materials work best for her.

Graham again has gained recognition for her creativity just months after making a statement at prom with her dress made of colored duct tape. The first-year welding student at Lexington-Richland Five’s Center for Advanced Technical Studies won second place in a statewide welding competition for an original art design.

Graham is taking the attention in stride.

“I’m honestly surprised. I knew that I had some unique interests and projects, but I didn’t think it would be something of interest to anyone else,” she said. “Since elementary school, I’ve had an interest in art. So, it’s really just a trial and error with my sculptures and different projects – just basic design principals and what would be the best way to create something that was likeable. That just comes from trial and error of different art projects, I guess.”

Graham is the only girl in her welding class and is often praised by her instructors for out-of-the-box thinking that led her to turn metal into an intricate piece of sculpture.

“Ashley has an amazing ability to bring her interest in art into her welding projects, and her attention for detail and presentation skills really helped her win second place in the Skills USA state competition,” said welding instructor George Brown. “She was a first-year student, beating out high school and college students that had been welding for a lot longer. That really says something about her skills. … She has real talent.”

The second-place award was given for Graham’s design of a loggerhead turtle. She said the choice was influenced by her love of nature and career goals.

“I went with the turtle because that’s what I’m best at rendering. My dream career would be to become a sea turtle marine biologist working at an aquarium or at the beach. Plus, it’s our state reptile so I thought maybe something South Carolina-related,” she said.

Graham just won second place for her metal loggerhead turtle sculpture created in welding class. Photo courtesy of Lexington-Richland Five.

Graham won a second place prize for her metal loggerhead turtle sculpture created in welding class. Photo courtesy of Lexington-Richland Five.

On the other hand, Graham’s idea to fashion her prom dress from an unlikely material last spring came from a lighthearted class discussion. She recalled that her English teacher told the students about a scholarship contest, “Stuck At Prom” from Duck Brand duct tape.

“The class had a good laugh about it and we all thought ‘That’s silly. That’s really silly.’ But to me, I thought it might be kind of funny and a way to amuse my friends, and I decided to enter it. And, yeah, my friends were definitely amused,” Graham said.

The result was another work of art. Graham will model the dress again at the Sept. 9 Board of Trustees meeting.

Graham isn’t sure if she will enter the scholarship competition again – “I still have some left over tape. So, I could” – but she is confident that she will move forward with learning all she can about welding.

“I’m definitely going to try to get better,” she said.

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