North Medford students semifinalists for Vans art grant

North Medford High School students Taylor Shellhorn, sophomore, Toreah Foy, junior, Alexis Gray and Rayna Carson, both seniors, created shoe designs for the Vans shoes contest.Bob Pennell

Between completing her 24-piece art portfolio and studying for her pre-calculus honors class, North Medford High School senior Rayna Carson found time — nearly 30 hours — to transform a clean, white pair of Vans into an avant-garde work of art.

She didn't do it for a grade or even extra credit, but for the chance to experiment with a new medium and, hopefully, win some money for North Medford's art program.

For the past five years, Vans, the manufacturer of a casual, canvas shoe popular among skateboarders and surfers, has hosted the Custom Culture art competition, which is open to the first 2,000 high schools to register.

The grand prize is $50,000 earmarked for the school's art programs and the chance for one student to see his or her design produced and sold in Vans' retail stores.

Carson and three of her classmates — Taylor Shellhorn, Alexis Gray and Toreah Foy — were invited by their art teacher, Nance Louise, to participate.

"They are my top artists, and I selected them not only for the quality of their painting but also for their thoughtful compositions," Louise said.

Vans supplied four different styles of sneakers to each school and mandated that each pair reflect a theme: art, music, local flavor and action sports, specifically those involving boards or bikes.

On April 25, Vans announced its 50 semifinalists, and North was among them. Now the public gets to determine which five teams will win a three-day trip to New York City, where the final judging will take place.

"It would be beyond fabulous for these students to go to New York City, and I really believe it's possible," Louise said. "But it will take all of us to get them there."

The public has until 9 a.m. Monday, May 12, to vote. (See North Medford is listed under "Northwest Region.")

Carson, Shellhorn, Gray and Foy drew straws to decide which theme they would illustrate. Each invested between 25 and 30 hours on the artistic enterprise, primarily working with acrylics and Sharpie markers.

Gray admitted to being, at first, daunted by her theme — action sports.

"We're artists," the senior joked. "We don't do sports."

However, once she had decided to focus on surfing, the ideas started to flow.

Gray created a pattern of waves over both shoes, which she also embellished with a simple surfer scene and two pink hibiscus flowers.

She was the first student to complete the project and set the bar for the other three, Louise said.

"We all went, 'Wow, that's what's possible,' " Louise said.

Carson found the theme of art to be much more comprehensive than the other themes.

"With art you can do anything because art is art," she said.

Inspired by the Cubism movement, she chose bold colors to illustrate shapes and geometric patterns and depicted art tools, such as paint brushes, pencils and pens, on the heels of each shoe.

"I thought it would be a style this generation would appreciate," she said.

Shellhorn, a sophomore, took a less traditional approach to music. A woman wearing headphones is depicted on the toe of one shoe, but strands of her red, purple and blue hair cover both shoes. On the heel of the shoes, notes and equalizer bars demonstrate "how music is becoming more and more digital," Shellhorn explained.

"I wish I could have had more pairs of shoes because after you paint one, you come up with all these other ideas," she added.

Foy, a junior, said this was her first experience working on a non-flat surface. Nonetheless, she managed to capably represent Southern Oregon's iconic subjects and scenes, including Crater Lake, pears, forests, mountains and fish.

Last year, North competed in the contest but didn't make it to the semifinal round. However, the shoes were donated to local nonprofits for auction.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or Follow her at

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