A Friendship Full of He(art): Seniors Elyse Dudley and Mia Zappala Strengthen their Bond Through Art


Courtesy of Elyse Dudley

The installation “Together, but Apart” was the start of seniors Elyse Dudley’s and Mia Zappala’s artistic partnership. Seniors Kate Brooks, Julie Epps and Clara Ferreira Lopes stand inside the completed project to literally see the world through a different colored lens.

On any given day, if you walk into Kearci Moir’s AP Studio Art class, you will likely see two heads –  one blue, one purple – bent over each girl’s current creative project in concentration, occasionally looking up to ask the other’s opinion.

Seniors Elyse Dudley and Mia Zappala met at the tender age of five years old when they happened to be in the same Girl Scout troop. Today, they both are advanced art students with unique passions and areas of expertise in the world of contemporary art.

Visiting art exhibits is a frequent pastime for Dudley and Zappala. A favorite according to the duo was Area 15 in Las Vegas: a huge playground-like exhibit featuring art installations, thrill-seeking activities and virtual reality experiences combined into one immersive complex. (Courtesy of Mia Zappala)

“It’s been really interesting to see how our friendship has evolved and changed over time and how we individually have changed as people,” Dudley said. “It’s kind of weird to think back to all the different phases we each went through and how that’s really impacted the people we are today.

One of the reasons the two girls work so well together is because of their similar tastes in art, which allow them to see the other’s pieces through a fresh lens but also a true understanding of the intended end result, according to Dudley. 

“I really like Elyse being in art because I go crazy when I’m in art, so I need someone to talk to when I can’t figure out what to do, and so I ask her before I absolutely lose it, ‘Is this color great? Should I change the lines? Does it look good?’” Zappala said. “So I always need her to make sure I’m sane and that I don’t freak out about it, and she keeps me controlled when it comes to art.”

Students and staff witnessed their teamwork in full swing last year, when Honors Modern and Contemporary Art took charge of creating an installation for Fine Arts Week. Dudley and Zappala headed the project, creating three boxes with a base of PVC pipe filled in with colored cellophane to create a socially-distanced environment where students could experience the world through different colors.

“It was a little nerve-wracking to get it in motion and put it all together, but it was amazing to see it all come together and how you could really get the different colors when you stepped inside and just really get the effect that we intended,” Dudley said.

The bond that was created through the girls’ shared love of art has only reinforced their genuine connection and relationship.

“I feel like she’s learned to deal with me more, and that’s just made us stronger,” Zappala said. “She’s learned how to deal with me being absolutely insane all the time, and I appreciate her for it because she keeps me calm; she keeps me sane; she keeps me okay.”