Amber Pierce is not in it for the awards or accolades.
"I would do art whether this happened or not," she said. "So, any recognition or honor is just extra."
Pierce, an art education and 3D media and materials double major at Old Dominion University, was recently awarded a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Visual Arts Fellowship.
She won in the crafts category for a series she created at ODU that combines ceramics with fibers - materials that can be embroidered, sewn or crocheted.
Pierce used a technique called coil-building to create the ceramic vessels, then poked holes in them to adorn the pieces with assorted fabrics, embroidery floss, yarn, felt and found material.
Her fibers professor, Ginger Brinn, a lecturer in ODU's art department, inspired her by saying that fibers could be anything.
"Discovering all these new materials because of the knowledgeable faculty at ODU guiding me has really expanded my art practice," Pierce said.
As an art education major, Pierce said she has been exposed to many different art forms that influenced her style. She credits Natalia Pilato, her art education and muralist professor, as a mentor.
Rick Nickel, associate professor of art at ODU and Pierce's ceramics professor, said that training culminated in her winning submission.
"Amber has the uncanny ability to synthesize her well-developed drawing, painting, design, fibers and ceramic skills," he said. "She found a way to weave all her interests together in a unique and original hybrid of craft and art."
Pierce said she wants to uplift others through her work, which incorporates her personal story and the stories of others.
"Soft Spot to Rest Your Head" depicts two young Black girls holding hands surrounded by flowers.
"During the events of 2020, I wanted to create a safe space of peace and joy for Black girls as a reprieve," she said. "I wanted to reconstruct the idea of rest as an act of resilience. Making a pillow allowed me to create a physical space dedicated to the idea of momentarily forgetting one's troubles and prioritizing rest and health maintenance."
Another piece, "Monumental," is more personal.
"This piece glorifies a commonplace, yet intimate, activity shared between my partner and I," Pierce said. "I embellished the outside of my vessel with this image and wrote a personal statement on the backside. It symbolizes a declaration to honor and celebrate small moments by solidifying snapshots and placing them into a space."
Alison Byrne, deputy director of exhibitions and education at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art and a juror for the VMFA Fellowship, said Pierce's submission immediately captured her eye.
"I found Amber's work visually captivating, innovative and highly personal," she said. "I appreciated her nod to the history of the medium combined with her original drawings, prints and transfers, as well as the incorporation of fiber."
The Fellowship comes with a $4,000 prize, which artists can use as desired, including for education and studio investments.
"For Amber to receive this award, she would be judged among a very large number of students from art schools throughout the entire commonwealth," said Peter Eudenbach, professor and chair of ODU's art department who also won a VMFA Fellowship in 2007. "For this reason, while the prize money is helpful, it is ultimately the endorsement from the VMFA that brings attention to young artists receiving this fellowship.
"The strength and reputation of any art program is always connected to the strength of the students and what they accomplish."
Pierce said she is interested in doing more community-based art projects - a passion that her professors have picked up on.
"I think you can really see her love for others in her work," said Nickel.