January 28, 2020

 Sitting on the floor with her legs spread out in front of her, visual junior Krista Brochu used a scalpel to shave away at the sides of a block of foam. She tightened the mask over her mouth and pulled her hair up into a bun before chiseling the foam into a pair of taut, outstretched arms. By the time she stepped back from her sculpture, her jeans and hands were dusted with white powder. Her finished masterpiece emerged: a wooden staircase, painted red, held up by faceless figures straining under the weight. 

Brochu created “The Ascension of Oppression” while she was studying at The Oxbow School in Napa, California. Each year, a select group of visual juniors have the opportunity to spend a semester doing research and creating art pieces in the school’s program, one designed to challenge young artists. In addition to art classes, Oxbow students spend time camping and hiking outdoors, all while keeping up with the academic classes their peers are studying back home. 

Allison Robbert


A typical day at The Oxbow School includes academic classes in the morning, art classes in the afternoon, and recreational time in the evenings to work on their projects. But in addition to the core curriculum, Brochu said that she learned how to think more critically about her ideas and develop them with the support of others.

“[Part of the challenge was] pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I was going to Oxbow for the arts, so I didn’t want to create the same art [at Oxbow] that I was creating here,” Brochu said. “I pushed myself to explore so much more, and I knew that if I experimented and it didn’t go well, then the experimentation [became] my art rather than the outcome.”

The Oxbow School is “tailored to student’s interests,” according to Holly McVeigh, Director of Admissions at The Oxbow School. It gives students the freedom to come up with and produce their own original pieces by using different mediums. This allows students to explore their creativity in ways that would be restricted in a typical classroom setting. 

“You definitely have to [have] the right mindset. You have to be an independently driven student to go out and really experience what [the Oxbow program] wants you to experience,” visual dean Lacey Van Reeth said.

Photo courtesy of Krista Brochu
Brochu carves a block of foam while at The Oxbow School in Napa, California.

Located over 3,000 miles away from Dreyfoos, The Oxbow School also gives students the opportunity to step away from their normal lives. Ms. McVeigh emphasized how students take this opportunity to focus on their artwork without any distractions from their home lives. 

“Generally, students come to Oxbow to experience an adventure away from home and to delve deeply into their academic and/or artistic interests,” Ms. McVeigh said. “It’s a place to step away from the typical pressures and expectations of home in order to figure out what is important to you and what you want to do with your life, moving forward.”

Ms. McVeigh explains that unlike other art schools, The Oxbow School teaches students to focus on the research aspect of the art-making process. 

“The artwork that students do is actually very academic, and they are really delving into topics in-depth before making artwork about it,” Ms. McVeigh said. “Their artwork is well-informed, conceptual, and personal. […] The result [of this] is that students are a lot more engaged in their curriculum, and they get a broad sense of how all the subjects interact together.”

Photo courtesy of Krista Brochu
One of the art pieces that Brochu created while studying at The Oxbow School. The sides were made with wooden boards, and the human figures inside were sculpted from foam. Gesso and spackling paste was painted across the top.

However, there are some challenges that come with attending a program that lasts for an entire semester. Students are expected to keep up with their academics so that they do not fall behind once they come back to school in January. This can be challenging if students decide to take AP courses during their junior year.

“Students do have to be on top of things and understand that they [have to] go back into a system that is more structured and is more systematic,” Ms. Van Reeth said. “But, they oftentimes love the freedom that the Oxbow curriculum encourages—the free thinking, the out-of-the-box thinking.” 

It is this freedom that Brochu says had a lasting impact on her, even after she returned to Dreyfoos. She explains that it taught her to reevaluate the work she did as an artist and gave her a fresh perspective on the art she strives to create.

“I think a lot more. I question more, and I think more beyond what I was given. I feel so much more connected to myself, to the ground I’m walking on, to the space around me—but also to how I think,” Brochu said. “I feel like my thought processing is so much more developed than it would have been had I not gone to Oxbow.”

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Sophia Roud, Editor In Chief

Sophia Roud is a third-year staffer and co-editor-in-chief of The Muse. During her time on the publication, she has specialized in writing in-depth feature...

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Visual junior Kylie McKenna began her day at 8:30 a.m. It consisted of academics in the morning and a whole afternoon committed to art. As 10 p.m. rolled around, she was finally able to get some rest, but instead of going to sleep after her free time, she and her roommates stayed awake sharing stories and making lifelong friendships. They kept this routine for over four months.  

McKenna and 47 other juniors and seniors around the country were offered the same opportunity at The Oxbow School In Napa, California, where they spent the first semester of the school year away from home to focus on visual art. McKenna described her experience as “life changing.”

“I thought [Oxbow] was going to be good, but it ended up being better than I had imagined,” McKenna said. “I made such amazing friends. I’m surprised that I would even make friends to that capacity. I can’t even describe the feeling.”

Each dorm had about five to seven people in each unit, creating opportunities for students to spend time with each other. “I don’t think there was one person I wasn’t friends with there,” McKenna said. The school is located about 45 minutes from San Francisco and is very close to downtown Napa. McKenna drew artistic inspiration from the new setting.

“We went to the Napa and San Francisco climate march,” McKenna said. “Seeing how much people are invested in our futures and how much they want to make it better really inspired me. I want to do something like that.”

McKenna realized that she wanted to pursue environmental science and conservation. Although attending the climate marches in person impacted her interest, the school’s morale and teachers also influenced her. 

“My environmental science teacher treated us as peers and [valued what] we said,” McKenna said. “It was really nice having teachers that viewed us as equals.”

Teachers also encouraged the incorporation of students’ art interests in their schoolwork. Many teachers at the school encouraged creative discussion in both their art and academic work. Faculty members, such as math teacher and dorm head Celeste Sazani, liked to see the two overlap. 

“The academic side is really asking these introspective questions,” Ms. Sazani said. “Art pieces are incorporated, and it blends together in a really beautiful way.”  

McKenna even made art with natural items she found near the school. Of these pieces, her favorite was a week-long project during the course of which she boiled flowers and made dyes out of them. 

Originally, McKenna thought she would stick to the same concentration she did at Dreyfoos. Her main focus was painting, but, once she got to Oxbow, that quickly changed. 

“When I got there, I got really into sculpture and working with wood and fabric,” McKenna said. “I just fell in love with it.“

From the Oxbow experience, McKenna has learned both new things about art and life lessons that affect her day-to-day life at Dreyfoos. 

“At Dreyfoos, some people are afraid to put out pieces that they aren’t sure are good,” Mckenna said. “There, everyone is just experimenting with how they want to produce art. I learned a lot more about being OK with producing failures.”

Although McKenna was away for just a short period of time, the vast change she has seen in herself is clear. She hopes to start this semester with a smooth transition. As for the newbies at Oxbow this semester, she hopes they enjoy it as much as she did.

“Don’t go in with any expectations,” Mckenna said. “Prepare yourself to be surprised and don’t waste any moment there.”

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Jade Lichtenstein, Social Media Editor

Jade Lichtenstein is a third-year staffer and social media editor on The Muse. She enjoys snorkeling and hanging out with friends. She joined The Muse...

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