OAKLAND -- In a remarkable coincidence, or possibly, a testament to the divine providence that sometimes renders life equal and fair, the medallion designs of two Oakland sisters were selected as winners in the Caldecott Fourth Bore Medallion Design Competition.
Aoife Gorshow, 11, and her sister, Nuala, 9, were two of the 300 school-aged children from Alameda and Contra Costa counties whose entries were judged by a three-member panel. Six designs were chosen, based on composition, originality, visibility and adherence to the contest's Art Deco Revisited theme.
"They told me it was blind judging," said their mother, Maura Hennessy. Weeks after the announcement, she is still searching for an explanation. "I just think, 'They follow directions well?' I don't know!"
A mother's intuition might be right, because the girls are patient and disciplined during an interview. Taking turns, they talk about the contest, art and becoming part of the tunnel's history.
"Art Deco? I didn't even know there was such a thing," Aoife admits. "I learned during art class and started drawing things like what I had seen."
Nuala learned from the same Thornhill Elementary School art teacher about the style.
"You see it on stained glass and buildings, even one shaped like a lion!" she exclaims. It's not clear what architectural element she is referring to, but the enthusiasm is unmistakable. Both girls worked on their designs quickly, barely more than
"I had an idea of doing a shell, but then I wasn't able to draw it," Nuala said. "It kept looking like a fan. I looked out the window and saw a sun, so I drew that.
"At first I was thinking I'd draw vines climbing up a wall, but I decided I couldn't make it look Art Deco. Then I thought of a sun. You're happy when you look at a sun, so I drew that," Aoife said.
Their home in the Oakland hills nestles like a tree house amid foliage that filters the sunlight splashing through the windows and illuminating their faces. Which makes the operative word they use to describe winning and almost everything else about the experience -- "cool!" -- seem ironic.
"I thought it would be cool to see my design for over 100 years on top of the Caldecott Tunnel," Aoife said.
"When my dad told us, we looked at each other like, 'Whoo-hoo! Cool!' We high-fived, right by the front door!" Nuala exclaimed.
Although neither Aoife nor Nuala initially defines themselves as artists, the conversation soon reveals definite opinions and thoughtful preferences. Nuala likes Picasso, because he worked in many styles.
"There's one, I think it's cubism, but I forget the name. You have to look really closely to tell there's an orchestra and stuff," she said.
Aoife mentions Matisse and describes a print that hangs in her bedroom because it puts her in a good mood.
"It's a lady at a table, with flowers and oranges. It's close to realism, but it's not exactly what you think a person looks like," she explained.
The sisters are frequent travelers through the Caldecott. They like the idea that every trek to visit their grandmother on the east side of the tunnel will include a boost to their self-esteem.
Their mother wonders if their frequent trips made them more aware of the Art Deco style.
"They told me they had noticed the medallions, which I hadn't. I never look, but I think kids see things that adults don't all the time," she said.
The Gorshow sisters are likely to be two adults who continue that habit.
"If I can still drive, when my medallion is 75 years old and I am 86, I'll take (my grandchildren) and show them the medallion and say, 'I made that.' " Aoife declared proudly.
" 'That's my art, and I drew that when I was in third grade.' -- that's what I'd say," her sister announced. "I'd feel proud and happy because I think it's just perfect the way it is."