Skip To Main Content
  • Arts
  • Main
O’Leary Exhibit Focuses on Human Connection

By Lilly Killinger ’26

“All the things I never said out loud,” an exhibit by Sarah O’Leary ’16, current Mercersburg arts faculty member, is on display in the Burgin Center for the Arts’ Cofrin Gallery. If you haven’t seen it yet, you are seriously missing out. The exhibit runs through Tuesday, April 23, and is open to the public. 

The exhibit explores what it’s like to be vulnerable in today’s society and takes the viewer on a journey through the thoughts shared in the title of each piece. O’Leary focuses on the female form where each painting is linked with a ceramic vessel. The ceramic vessels represent how one person presents themselves to the world, and the paintings show that inside these broken pieces of ceramic, there are beautiful thoughts and feelings. 

As O’Leary said, “I was thinking of our body as a vessel and then the paintings kind of were like a visual representation of the thoughts and feelings that we have and don’t share with one another, and what’s inside can be really beautiful and worth sharing.” Having someone brave enough to share their vulnerable thoughts is exactly what people need to see to instill confidence in themselves.

O’Leary commented that art is her way to connect with others without talking: “It’s really important to me that whether or not they connect with the message, or it all makes sense to them, or all the paintings are meaningful, my main goal is always to have some point of human connection where they’ll look at something and go, ‘I know what that feels like, to feel that feeling that’s being painted there.’” O’Leary wants viewers to know that she is human, and she hopes that by revealing these feelings through her art, she will help viewers connect with her and feel less alone. 

Having been a student at Mercersburg and now a teacher at the school, O’Leary feels that Mercersburg has helped shape her art and inspired her to push her creativity. As O’Leary expressed, “Honestly, [arts faculty member Syd] Caretti P '24, '26 was the most inspiring art teacher I probably have ever had. She really pushed me to be myself and tap into the kind of thoughts and feelings and things that I want to express, while also really honing in on hard technical skills, and that carried me through school here [Mercersburg], but also studying art in college.” 

Now, O’Leary gets to work with the person who influenced her so deeply, and she has the opportunity to have the same effect on her own students. Having taken O’Leary’s Drawing I and Ceramics I classes, I can confidently say that O’Leary has not only taught me the fundamentals of each, but has empowered me to take risks in the art I create. O’Leary’s care and dedication to me, and all her students, allows for us to feel safe in her room, which makes us more willing to explore different sides of ourselves through our art.

O’Leary will be departing Mercersburg at the end of the academic year. She has been accepted into the MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art and will begin that program in June.

O’Leary has been an inspiring presence at Mercersburg, so saying goodbye to her next year saddens me. To me, having one final show before O’Leary returns to art school is the perfect way to celebrate her. This art show will have a lasting impact on the viewers, so even though O’Leary may no longer be at Mercersburg, her thoughts, teachings, and the effect she has on others will continue. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be taught by O’Leary and to be touched by her art.

Lilly Killinger ’26 of Middleburg, VA, is an aspiring artist at Mercersburg Academy. She co-leads Green Team, is a part of the Blue Key, and is a Burgin Proctor, as well as a Math and Science Center Proctor. Killinger, who plans to study architecture or business in college, said: “I am so grateful to have been given the chance to interview Ms. O’Leary. She has been a strong figure in my life, so being able to write about her show and what it means to her has been a wonderful opportunity.”