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Arts Guild Honors Class of 2023 Inductees
Ashley Schreyer

Salvador Dalí once said, “A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.” To recognize and celebrate the inspirational artistic achievements and contributions as performing or visual artists of its alumni and former faculty, Blair created the Arts Guild in 2022. The Guild’s selection committee is proud to announce this year's class of alumni and faculty inductees: Natessa Amin ’06, Nevett Bartow ’52, Meredith Habermann ’04, Dr. Andrew R. Heinze ’73, Tara Nicole Whitaker ’98 and Jon Williams II ’89.      

In order to be considered for the Arts Guild, nominees were evaluated on their involvement and achievements in the Fine Arts while at Blair, as well as accomplishments in the visual or performing arts that occurred after graduation. Nominees must have been outstanding members of the School community in the areas of scholastic achievement, citizenship, integrity and moral character. Finally, alumni nominees became Arts Guild eligible in the fifth year following their graduation, while former faculty became eligible after their retirement from Blair. The annual selection is overseen by Kate Sykes, fine arts department chair and Jennifer Pagotto, performing arts department chair and Director of Instrumental Music, with a steering committee to aid in the process, including Director of Alumni Relations Courtnay (Brennan) Stanford ’95

“This year’s class of inductees truly represents the spectrum of the arts offerings here at Blair and beyond,” Mrs. Stanford said. “These talented students coupled their skills with the tools and confidence they learned at the School to pursue rich and fulfilling careers in all aspects of the arts—from writing to painting, animating to composing—and we are honored to celebrate them with this recognition.”

Congratulations to the Blair Arts Guild Class of 2023.

Natessa Amin ’06 

Natessa Amin’s multidisciplinary artwork has garnered her international attention. Her practice explores the hybrid nature of identity through painting, drawing, sculpture and site-specific installation. Born in Pennsylvania to an Indian-American family, Natessa is no stranger to the complexities of growing up biracial in the United States. The contrasting cultures and religions of her heritage provide a deep well of inspiration for the artist, and she frequently incorporates imagery into her paintings that evokes Indian, African and Pennsylvania Dutch textiles as a response to her family’s background and the place in which she was raised. “I explore issues of transcultural identity through my personal heritage and address memory, duality, migration, post-colonial narratives and spirituality. The ideas in my work are investigated through processes that allude to the notion of creation and destruction as it relates to materiality, the self and nature,” Natessa says.

As a four-year senior at Blair, Natessa’s advisor and fine arts department chair Kate Sykes took notice of a complexity of representation and expression in her drawings. She went on to earn her BFA in painting from Boston University and an MFA from the University of Pennsylvania. She is the co-director and founder of FJORD Gallery in Philadelphia and assistant professor of art at Moravian University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Her work has been exhibited in many group and solo shows across the United States and abroad, including Blair’s Romano Gallery; the CUE Art Foundation in New York, New York; Galerie Isa in Mumbai, India; Tiger Strikes Asteroid in Los Angeles, California; and the American University Museum in Washington, D.C.

Nevett Bartow ’52

Nevett Bartow had an enthusiasm for life, one that he shared with many he impacted during his time on the hilltop. After Blair Academy, Nevett went on to pursue his musical career and attended The Manhattan School of Music. He began composing at a young age, and his senior thesis, a Mass for chorus and orchestra, was performed at St. Thomas’ Church in New York City and broadcast over the Voice of America international radio. Almost instantly, the Oxford University Press picked up another composition, "Variations and Fugue," for publication.

As a composer, Nevett wrote chamber works for almost every instrument, among them "Divertimento for Wind Quintet," "Soliloquy for Cello and Piano" and "Variations on a Theme by Josquin for Clarinet Choir." His "Sonata for Flute and Piano" premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1971 and was favorably reviewed by the New York Times. The Artists for the Environment Foundation, in collaboration with the National Park Service at the Delaware Water Gap Concert Series, devoted two evenings to his compositions, and the Lexington, Kentucky, Symphony Orchestra performed his symphonic poem "Summershadow" in October 1972. Many of his compositions, among them the cantata "The Tower of Babel" and "Concertino for Piano and Band," were dictated by the fine talent available among Blair students.

Nevett returned to Blair as a teacher and composer-in-residence for twelve years, serving as music department chair for eight. He elevated the quality of the music curriculum to a standard rarely found below college or conservatory level, and it was noted that during his tenure, “No changes in students have been more dramatic than the changes in those who came under Nevett’s tuition. They worked hard for him not because he drove them, but because, as he loved and respected them, they respected and loved him.” After losing his six-year battle with leukemia in 1973, Nevett was buried in the cemetery almost at the door of Old Academy, which was his home and studio at Blair. To honor the beloved teacher, the School created the Bartow Series, a program endowed with the mission to expand students’ artistic experiences by bringing professional performers from far and wide to the Blair stage.

Meredith Habermann ’04

Meredith Habermann’s award-winning ceramics have gained acclaim since her days on Blair’s hilltop. The recipient of the Three-Dimensional Art Prize her junior year, Meredith graduated in 2004 and continued on to earn her BA from Franklin and Marshall College. After completing her degree, Meredith journeyed to Nagano, Japan, where the rural lifestyle of the Japanese Alps compelled her to make clay her guiding life force. Rather than pursuing another art degree in the United States, Meredith sought out alternative learning opportunities and feels privileged to have honed her craft through apprenticeships and internships under many gifted ceramic artists. After seven years of intensive training, she returned to academia and earned her MFA at San Diego State University's School of Art and Design. She subsequently served as a tenant at the Bread & Salt gallery and experimental center for the arts and taught at several institutions, such as the Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego, University of California San Diego Craft Center and Grossmont College. She was bestowed the PSFA Dean Award in 2018 for her work, Old Ladies Club; the Dean Emeritus Award in 2019 for her installation, Breathes; and the Office of the President’s Award in 2020 for My Trapper Keepers

Today, Meredith resides in Atlanta, Georgia, where she maintains an active studio art practice with her work displayed nationally. This summer, Meredith is an invited artist-in-residence at Watershed Ceramics in Edgecomb, Maine. 

In addition to clay, Meredith's artistic practice encompasses non-traditional materials in ceramics as well. Her interest in social psychology propels her to examine the fundamental human need to connect and how that impels us to conform to cultural norms. Through her work, she employs coming-of-age narratives to scrutinize and critique the social, cultural and gender molds that we often unconsciously embrace, utilizing materials from her youth, such as paint, hot glue, glitter, beads, fabric and hair.

Dr. Andrew R. Heinze ’73

From academia to theatre, writing has been the foundation of playwright Andrew Heinze’s life. As a Blair student in the ’70s, Andy excelled in all subjects, was editor of the Blair Breeze and earned valedictorian of the Class of 1973. He graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College, majoring in history, and later earned a PhD from UC Berkeley. His work focused on race, immigration, popular culture and the history of American Jews. He published Adapting to Abundance, the first full-length study of the impact of American consumer culture on an immigrant group, as well as Jews and the American Soul, a Publishers Weekly choice for “Best Books of 2004.”

In 2006, Andy left his tenured professorship at the University of San Francisco to embark on a new career in the arts. He soon found his way into playwriting in New York City. The author of multiple award-winning plays, Andy has had his work produced in New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin, Miami, Denver, Tucson, Albuquerque and regionally across the country. Monologues from his full-length plays have been chosen seven times for publication in The Best Women’s Stage Monologues and The Best Men’s Stage Monologues. His short plays have been studied and produced for BFA theatre programs at universities across the United States. His most recent comedy, The Rimsky-Fogelman, stages an identity crisis of comic proportions for a white Jewish family that discovers it's neither white nor Jewish and was a semi-finalist for the 2023 O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. A member of both the Dramatists Guild and PEN America, Andy serves as dramaturg and workshop director of the American Renaissance Theater Company in New York City. He is proud and pleased to have engaged with Blair students as a guest speaker for a J-term class about contemporary American theatre. 

Tara Nicole Whitaker ’98 

As her advisors and teachers at Blair noticed while she was a student, there is nothing that Tara Nicole Whitaker can’t do if she puts her mind to it. Catching the eye of former art department chair and fellow Arts Guild inductee Rita Baragona, Tara was complimented for her artistry in drawing classes and independent study portfolio her senior year. “She is a born painter with a beautiful and intuitive sense of color,” Rita noted.

Building on her Blair portfolio, Tara studied character animation in the film department at the California Institute of the Arts. Combining the powerful medium of animation with her passion for character-led stories, her most recent role for Disney+ was as a director on The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder. She has illustrated several children’s books, including the Baby Loves series, the New York Times best-seller Shady Baby, My Little Golden Book about Misty Copeland and My Little Golden Book about Oprah. In addition to her work as an episodic director and artist at leading studios such as Nickelodeon, Disney and Cartoon Network, Tara is making history in a new role—film director. As one of the first Black women to direct a major animated movie, she is in development as co-director on Pierre the Pigeon-Hawk, with celebrated executive producers, Jennifer Hudson and Snoop Dogg, to tell a story of identity, belonging and inclusion and teach the life lesson that being different is cool. 

“We are thrilled to have Tara coming onboard,” said producer John D. Eraklis in an interview with Variety magazine. “She is an incredibly talented artist, animator and director, whose voice was the missing piece of our puzzle.”

Jon Williams II ’89

Jon “JW” Williams was sharing his gift of music with the world long before he first stepped foot at Blair as a ninth grader in 1985. As his advisor noted after only his second year on the hilltop, “He is the standard by which all other Blair musicians measure themselves.” For his senior project, Jon captivated the community with a full-blown concert of his own compositions performed by singers and musicians—including a six-piece band—whom he assembled and trained. The result was a resounding success and catapulted Jon into a more than 30-year career in the entertainment industry.

During his career, Jon has performed professionally as a lead singer, backing vocalist and session singer at notable venues such as Carnegie Hall in New York City and MGM Grand in Las Vegas. He has worked with legendary musicians such as Julio Iglesias, Dionne Warwick and KC & The Sunshine Band. He furthered his education at the University of Miami's Frost School of Music, majoring in studio music and jazz vocal performance. Today, Jon serves as CEO of Diamond Music Management, a Texas-based entertainment company, and owner of The Grooveline Dallas, the premier event band he formed in 2001 that travels internationally as a customizable 12 to 16 member ensemble, with Jon at the helm. Jon’s passion for music is evident in everything he pursues and those who experience it are all the better for it.

Members of the school community are invited to suggest nominees for the class of 2024 and can do so here until December 31, 2023.

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