Bakersfield Californian: Love of country -- and mom

Jul 3, 2012
In The News

Love of country -- and mom
By Camille Gavin

Sarah Fanucchi didn't have to search far for inspiration when she received an assignment called "Faces of War" for her South High art class: She just looked into the face of her mother, who was about the same age as Sarah when she enlisted in the Air Force 30 years ago.

The acrylic painting now hangs in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., where it will be on display for one year.

Yasmine Suleiman, who will be a senior at Stockdale High School, under the direction of her art teacher, Linda Hyatt, created her piece, titled "Plight of Man," using charcoal as her medium. Suleiman's piece also will hang in the corridor leading to the U.S. Capitol for one year. The student and other winners in the district were honored at a reception at Metro Galleries in Bakersfield in May.

The 18-by-18-inch canvas -- as patriotic as it is personal -- is done in pop-art style and depicts her then-18-year-old mother, Carrie, proudly wearing her U.S. Air Force uniform.

To create the picture, Sarah, now 19, used as a model a photograph taken when Carrie graduated from basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

Sarah's teacher, Hank Washington, suggested she enter the painting in an art contest.

"I really didn't know what it was for and I'd forgotten all about it," Sarah said during a recent phone conversation. "Then all of a sudden, Mr. Washington called and said I won."

What she had won was first place in the Congressional Art Competition for the 20th Congressional District, according to a press release from Rep. Jim Costa, whose district includes part of Kern County. Her award included a trip to Washington, D.C., and a tour of the Capitol.

Since 1982, the competition has honored the creative talents of thousands of high school students across the nation, the release said. Local competitions are voluntarily hosted by members of Congress in their home districts. In June, the winning artwork is sent to Washington, and winners are invited to the Capitol for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and Congressional reception. The competition receives more than 500 entries every year.

On June 20, the day of her tour, Costa also honored Sarah in a statement he made on the floor of the House of Representatives.

"It is just over a minute long and it was completely unexpected," said Carrie Fanucchi, who, along with Sarah's father, David Fanucchi, and brother Anthony Fanucchi, accompanied her to Washington. The Fanucchis were not present to hear the congressman make the statement but were able to see a video of it on YouTube.

Here's a portion of Costa's tribute to Sarah.

"As I welcome her and her family to Washington this week, I applaud Sarah's artistic feat, but her perseverance through her challenges is what I find most impressive about this young lady. The art and life she has created is something any parent or teacher can and should be proud of.

"From a young age," he continued, "Sarah struggled with reading and math. It was only when a high school teacher at Bakersfield's South High School recognized her artistic talent that she became excited about school. After this, Sarah's grades improved and she began to excel in the classroom."

During our conversation, Sarah expressed her gratitude for all of the teachers who supported her during her four years at South High.

"Especially Mr. Washington, who taught me about art and Mr. (David) Bayne, the special ed counselor -- he helped me get started in my freshman year," she said. "I have dyslexia and I can do things, but it's just a little harder."

This was Sarah's first time in our nation's capital and she obviously enjoyed it.

"It was cool seeing all the things I've learned about in school," she said, "like going to the National Gallery and seeing the painting of George Washington that Dolley Madison saved when the White House burned."

Sarah plans to attend Bakersfield College in the fall but won't be able to take any art classes because they are impacted.

Asked if she might eventually follow in her mother's footsteps and join the military, Sarah laughed and said, "I don't think I'm brave enough."