University Heights Academy freshman Riley Harper will study art at Sotheby's Summer Institute this July in the Big Apple.

The 14-year-old student was selected for the two-week pre-college program, which is sponsored by Sotheby's Art Institute in New York City.

"Manhattan is probably one of my favorite places in the world because that environment is so different from what I experience here," she said. "I really have no idea what to expect. I'm really excited to meet new people, new friends and just be in the city."

Admission to Sotheby's Summer Institute is highly competitive. Applicants are selected based on their artistic ability and strong academic background, along with their ability for critical thinking.

Riley learned about the program in January from her mother, Dr. Shea Godwin, Cadiz.

"When I saw this program was being offered, I immediately knew this was the perfect fit for her," Godwin said. "This program would allow for her to do what she loves doing in her favorite place."

Riley submitted her application by the Feb. 11 deadline. On her application, Riley shared her reasons for wanting to attend the prestigious program.

"When I was 10 years old, my mom took me to New York City for the first time and I absolutely fell in love with the city. I loved everything about it but most notably the art and cultural diversity that is unique to New York," she wrote. "In my free time, I love to paint, sketch and work on my art skills. It would be such an awesome opportunity to attend Sotheby's Summer Institute because it would give me the opportunity to meet new people, appreciate art from a different perspective and experience the unique and magnificent art world that is only found in New York City."

Sotheby's Summer Institute students are immersed in the vibrant global art capital with auction houses, blue chip and emerging galleries, world-class museums, artists' studios, private collections and arts foundations during their course term.

Riley will be participating in an intensive study focused on modern and contemporary art while residing in New York.

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"She has elected to do the Modern Museum intensive study which will include quite a bit of behind the scenes study and mentoring with the curators at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art," Godwin said. "I hope that she can take away an appreciation of the artistic talent that exists and is on display in New York. I am also hoping that she can get some dedicated studio instruction time while she is there so that she can continue to advance her skill level."

Family ties

Riley and her family have traveled to New York City several times since she was a child, but their connection goes deeper than mere tourism. Her family history traces back to the city and her great-great-grandparents.

"Although I live in Kentucky, Manhattan has significance to my family's heritage," Riley wrote in her Sotheby's application. "My great-great-grandparents were Italian immigrants to our country, their names immortalized on the wall at Ellis Island. My great-grandfather (the late Johnny DeName) was raised in Brooklyn, and my family has always spent a tremendous amount of time in the city throughout the years."

Creating her art

Although she "doodles all the time," Riley said she likes to create her art at the desk next to her bedroom window.

She said her art reflects her mood at the time she creates it.

"It depends on how I feel when I'm doing it. Different pieces mean different things to me. If I'm really excited about something, it's really colorful. That's obviously special to me," she said.

Riley's chosen genre is abstract art. She creates pencil sketches and watercolor and acrylic paintings.

"Personally, whenever I'm doing art I just go with the flow and just do whatever comes out," she said. "Abstract art just gives me the opportunity to just do whatever. There's no set thing I have to do. Nobody's going to question what it is."

With her Sotheby's application, Riley had to submit one of her art pieces. She selected a pencil sketch she drew about 18 months ago.

"It's a woman's eye. She has this tear coming out of her eye. I really focused on the detail within the eye itself," she said. "At that point, my feelings were kind of weird. I was in middle school, which is obviously a very rough time in anybody's life. It's actually one of my favorite pieces of that time."

A straight-A student, the Blazer cheerleader said art helps her through stressful times in school and life.

"I just do art when I feel like doing art," Riley said. "A lot of times when I'm really stressed, art helps me with that and calms me down."

While in New York this summer, Godwin said she hopes her daughter "gains an appreciation for art business and potential career opportunities from some of the world's leading professionals in the business."

"I feel like being accepted has been a huge confidence booster to her and validation to her that it's OK to have varied interests and talents from her friends and classmates," Godwin said. "As a parent, you always appreciate that your children are special and talented, but for her to know that she was selected by a prestigious program like Sotheby's at this stage in her life is incredible. "

UHA Principal Beth Unfried said Riley is deserving of this honor.

"We are always excited when one of our University Heights Academy students has an opportunity like this," she said. "We're extra excited for Riley. We know she's very passionate about art, very talented. She's creative. She's a great student. She will represent University Heights Academy well."

In addition to her mother and her school, Riley has the support of the rest of her family: Bailey Oliver, Cadiz, and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Harper, Bowling Green. She is the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Godwin, Janie Sumner and Mr. and Mrs. Ramon Oliver, all of Cadiz, and Mr. and Mrs. Miller Slaughter, Bowling Green.

As she prepares for her summer excursion, Riley offered some advice for other young artists.

"With the (Sotheby's) program, I didn't think I was going to get in even before I applied, but I applied anyway," she said. "I think that you should just always go for it. Even if you don't get in, you can always try again. Follow your dreams."

Reach Michele Vowell at 270-887-3242 or

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