Emily's mural at St. Edward's.
Emily's mural at St. Edward's.
When the faith formation staff at St. Edward's parish in Clifton Park wanted to "jazz up" their hallway, students knew just the right artist to recommend.

Emily Holtzman, 18, a recent Shenendehowa High School graduate, is gearing up to start her freshman year at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, R.I., where she will study fine arts with the hopes of entering a painting program.

Her peers were impressed by her knack for art throughout high school: She took accelerated classes in school and also dabbled in pottery and figure drawing in her extracurricular life.

Emily was an obvious choice to paint a mural at St. Edward's - and she was no stranger to the parish's faith formation program.

"The staff and I painted rainbow colors throughout our corridor," said Peter Avvento, director of religious education. "And then we had this blank, white wall."

Emily took the initiative to use a friend who, she said, "looks like Jesus" as a model for her mural, which depicts Jesus with lambs. She dressed him in "altar boy robes" and photographed him. A few friends helped block out colors for the mural, but Emily mostly worked alone nights and weekends.

The mural took about 20 sessions between Holy Week and June to complete.

"It was fun," the artist told The Evangelist. "I really like painting. It kind of gave me a taste of what I'll be doing next year."

Emily usually does portrait work: "It was kind of cool to get a taste of something different."

The mural, about 12 feet tall and eight feet wide, is just what the staff hoped for.

"It's gorgeous," Mr. Avvento said. "It really meshes with what we did this year. She's very gifted."

Emily said she often reflects on God while working, but this project was particularly special.

"I was thinking about how everyone is good at certain things," she said. "God created them to be something."

She shies away from calling art her gift, instead saying, "I just really like doing it.

"I kind of always have been obsessed with it," she said. "I'm not really good with words, so it's easier to say what I'm thinking [through art]. You can go back and fix things if you mess up."

Catholicism goes hand-in-hand with Emily's life: When faced with decisions like going out or studying the night before a test, she uses her faith as a compass.

"Every single day, you know right from wrong from what you were taught when you were little," she said, adding that it prevents her from giving in to road rage and helps her "give people the benefit of the doubt. When I have kids, I want them to have Christian morals."

Being confirmed in 10th grade was "cool," she said, "because you make the decision for yourself instead of your parents making it for you."

During Emily's busy senior year, she balanced indoor and outdoor track, cross-country, two honor societies, work at a toy store and serving as president of her school's recycling club.