Piper Torsilieri was wrapping up her final weeks as a student at The College of New Jersey, preparing for graduation and looking for a part-time job that would provide financial support as she worked to establish a portraiture business.
She was in a painting class when her cell phone buzzed. It was a representative of the Princeton Area Community Foundation, calling to say she’d won the 2017 Thomas George Artist Fund Award.
“I was so excited, I was running down the halls in school, searching for whoever I could find to tell,” said the 23-year-old who grew up in Flemington. “It’s such a relief to have some help when you graduate so you can focus on what you love. It was great – really great.”
Thomas George (1918-2014) was an internationally recognized artist whose work is included in the permanent collections of major museums, universities, corporations and private collections around the world. As a young artist, he received financial support to study and practice his art. It was that good fortune that later led him to establish the Thomas George Fund at the Community Foundation. Graduating art majors from colleges and universities in Mercer County are eligible to apply for the annual award.
“Immediately following formal training, an artist may feel a bit lost at sea,” he said when he established the Fund about a decade before his death in 2014, at the age of 96. “That along with possible financial pressures can discourage even the most talented and dedicated. I want to help ease the financial pressure and provide an opportunity for young artists to concentrate on their craft and to experience art as a full-time occupation.”
Piper learned about the scholarship during her junior year. She quickly began to contemplate the contents of her portfolio so she would be ready with a collection of paintings and drawings to submit with her application as a senior.
She graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. Piper plans to use the $5,000 award to rent studio space at The Art Academy of Hillsborough and kick-start her own business, entering art shows and raising her name recognition, so she can begin to build a client base. She hopes to have her own studio one day.
Piper grew up surrounded by artistry. Her mom, Christine, is a pianist and writer, and her dad, Dean, is an artist. As a youngster, Piper, the third oldest of six children, began sketching illustrations and painting with watercolors. Then, at the age of 15, she started formal training at The Art Academy, initially drawing in charcoal. By the time she was 17, she had graduated to oil paintings.
One of her brothers runs a show stable and she rides, so she eventually found a way to merge her love of art and horses.
“I’ve discovered that portraiture works well in the equine community, so the two combine in a really lovely way,” she said.
Horse owners have intense connections with their animals, and paintings are more intimate and can be more meaningful than a photograph, she said. Horses are her favorite subject to paint.
“I’m very interested in form,” she said. “There’s something about the form of the skin. When you see it start to come together and take form, it’s magical.”