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MHS student claims top prize in art show for third time

Sam Kerr, McNary High School
Sam Kerr shows off two of his prior show-winning pieces in the graphics room at McNary High School. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

Of the many works on display in the recent McNary High School art show in the Keizer Art Association Enid Joy Mount Gallery, one stood out – at about three inches tall – as particularly unique. It was a papercraft toy of a tribal man, the work of McNary High School graphic designer Sam Kerr.

“I found a bunch of templates to play around with online and took a character I created earlier and brought him to life as a paper toy. He’s a lot cooler now,” Kerr said.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t that unique creation that won him first place in the graphic design category of Salem-Keizer Schools Art Show sponsored by the Salem Art Association and the Salem-Keizer School District. The piece that won was a promotional poster he designed for McNary’s production of 12 Angry Jurors, it was Kerr’s third consecutive win in the show.

“I definitely have my own style that’s nice and clean, but I also want it to be new and exciting and fun to look at and different,” Kerr said.

Kerr discovered graphic design after a fascination with art that led to him doodling in the margins of all his papers and assignments turned into something of a problem with his instructors.

“On the computer, I can take things to the next level and make crazier things than I would be able to by hand, like being able to morph a guy’s head into a black hole,” Kerr said. “The computer is a lot more forgiving than pencil and paper because you can continue to change it all the time.”

As lead guitarist for the McNary jazz choir, Kerr is often tapped to create promotional materials for various shows, but it’s the personal work, like the tribal figure, from which he derives the most pleasure.

“If I decide I want to make a crazy guy in a beard and a monocle, I can do that,” he said.

Kerr wouldn’t be half as successful if he didn’t put forth the effort it takes to do something well, said Todd Layton, his instructor at McNary.

“Sam does 75 percent of his work at home. He’ll come here and spend hours doing graphic design work at school and then he’ll go home and spend hours doing it at home,” Layton said.

The papercraft toy was a self-initiated project Layton encouraged Kerr to turn into a class project.

“Sam’s always been very, very creative. I find it works best to give him some big picture ideas and let him go at it,” Layton said. “As budget talks start to come up around the district, I think Sam is a good example of the kind of kid we might have lost if it wasn’t for the art programs.”

After McNary, Kerr plans to attend Chemeketa Community College on a scholarship for two years and transfer to Portland State University.

“After that, I’m not sure. I have aspirations to be a freelance designer and be my own boss, but there are a few different firms in Portland that are really cool and hip. I wouldn’t mind working for them because it would be a more stable base,” he said.

In the meantime, he plans to keep working at his art, both behind a computer and with his guitar strapped across his shoulder.

“They’re both things I’ve never gotten bored with. They both work the same part of my brain and you never do the same thing twice. You get to do something new every day,” Kerr said.

For more of Kerr’s work, visit his website at