Shoes. That’s what started it all.
A fifth grade student at Ruffing Montessori School in Rocky River was obsessed with them. He began collecting shoes and drawing them, noticing everything from the overall shape and structure, down to the stitching, fabric and textures.
Paper was his first medium, but the young artist’s hands gravitated toward materials with more feeling and weight. Drawing classes in middle school evolved into art education at home—from his grandmother, in fact, who showed him the fine art of sewing.
“She taught me how to sew in eighth grade on my great-grandmother’s sewing machine,” he says. “It was the table and pedals; that's how I learned how to sew. I learned the hard way, but it was good.”
This was the foundation laid out for Aidan Meany ’19
. As a senior on the verge of graduation, he can look back on the past four years with a laundry list of projects, lessons learned, and some of the highest artistic accolades ever achieved by a Saint Ignatius student.
In November, Aidan’s AP Studio Art Portfolio
from his junior year was selected as one of 30—from more than 60,000—to be featured by the College Board around the United States. He was named a National Silver Medalist in the 2019 Scholastic Art & Writing Competition, putting his work in the top 1 percent of more than 340,000 eligible pieces. Aidan joins Zach Valletta '13, Liam Jenkins '16, Edward Kilarsky '17, William Deucher '18, and Nicholas Cucci '18 as the sixth student to win a National Medal in the past seven years.
And yet, his level of artistic achievement extends far beyond these awards. It has been made manifest in his own collection of music, a fledgling LLC, and three fashion shows.
“I knew I wanted to come [to Saint Ignatius] and I knew I was into art,” Aidan says. “I saw room for improvement when I was shadowing in the department. They had a lot of great facilities to help me as an artist, and I wanted to help grow awareness for the department. That’s been my whole goal for the four years: do these shows, bring people in, so I can show off my work, but I can literally bring people to
The Lakewood resident began designing his own line of clothes early—freshman year, in fact. The Saint Ignatius Fine Arts Week show in May 2016 featured a showcase of models wearing clothes that Aidan designed and produced himself.
“My first show...the idea was to make pieces that all genders could wear and just kind of explore how I could say that through color and texture,” Aidan says.
At just 15 years old, immediately after that first show, he asked for permission to book The Breen Center for the Performing Arts for another even larger one.
“The second show
I wanted to push the limits of what I’d learned up until then,” he says. “I used really heavy materials like fur and leather. I actually broke a machine making stuff. That second show was just to play around with graphics and printing.”
As he has cultivated his own sense of style, his apparel becomes part of the Meany brand
, which itself is becoming a small business project. In mid-June, he will host his third show at Ingenuity Cleveland, a creative arts hub in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood. In addition to the models, Meany has 45 people working for him on the project.
“I fund a lot of [the work] myself through the brand,” Aidan says. “Over the summer I’ll put out more. I’ve been selling t-shirts and hoodies and pieces from previous shows. This year, every piece will be for sale. I’ve sourced footwear made in Italy for my second show.”
“The hardest thing isn’t funding it, it’s making time for meetings with school,” he adds. “You have to dive into it and figure it out.”
Aidan’s education at Saint Ignatius, he says, has been incredibly formative. He credits Julianna Burrows, Jennifer Chronnister and former teacher Darius Steward with nurturing his talents and passions.
“They push you, all the teachers and courses,” he says. “It’s not easy at all. It’s easy to look at high school art as kind of a fluke, nonsense course, but the teachers I’ve had noticed me. They can pick up on your interests if this is something you really want to pursue. I had a ton of extra projects. I got involved with Artists-In-Residence. I was part of the team that did the mural in Sullivan Gym my freshman year.”
“I’ve been greatly appreciated in what I wanted to do and I’ve felt very supported, even thought there was a lot of uncertainty... They were willing to take that leap and trust me and see what I could do.”
In the fall, Aidan will head to Syracuse University to study industrial design. He found the community there just as valuable to him as the course of study.
“As an artist and a creative, I have to be comfortable where I am,” he says. “ I value just how little things looked on campuses, how I saw people interacting and who I talked to.”
Somehow, Aidan finds time to dabble in music
. He is releasing his next album, called “Happy Rap,” this Saturday, May 18. He says it’s not rap music in the sense that most people think of rap, but more of a combination of poetry and sound.
“That whole album is surrounded around ways to be happy,” he says. “Each track is a different way to be happy: find yourself, make good decisions, surround yourself with good people...”
How will he find happiness in his career? By being open to whichever opportunities come his way, or even ones he can create for himself.
“I love fashion. I love designing products, so I’d like to keep up my brand and develop that,” he says. “I would love to just be a head designer, whether it’s my own or whether I start somewhere and bounce around.”
Reflecting on his time at Saint Ignatius, he says, “A lot of people don't think of Ignatius as having a strong art department because it's so tucked away on the fifth and sixth floors, but right now is a great time for the department and there’s a lot of good stuff happening.
“I think that people should know that if they’re considering a field in art, that it's a great school to go to,” he adds. “This should be a draw. This should be just as big as any other, like service or sports.”
As for what his impact has been on his Alma Mater, Aidan hopes that he has helped other young artists recognize their potential.
“In every project I do, I try to show all that anyone can do it,” he says. “Like, most don’t think that they can source a manufacturer in Italy to make their shoes’ designs when they are 16. All it takes is not limiting yourself and how you view your abilities.”