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By Renee Unsworth

When you’re in 8th grade and someone tells you that your artwork will be hanging in the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, “surreal” is a probably a good way to describe that feeling.

15-year-old Soleil Von Hausch certainly can attest to that. Last April, Sebastian Middle School’s art teacher, Mikel Colakaglu, included Von Hausch’s “Walk Through the Stars” with works from five other Sebastian artists for consideration in an annual competition hosted by the Dali Museum. Each year, students from all over the state compete for a spot in the Salvador Dali Museum Student Surrealist Exhibit, on display until August 26th of this year. The jurored show narrows hundreds of works down to just 100 and it’s an honor to be included in the finalized exhibit.

Dad Gregory Von Hausch, who has been at the helm of the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival for the past 27 years, was understandably excited. “To have Soleil be one of the six nominees at Sebastian was an honor. About a month passed after the nomination before we were notified by the Dali that she was one of the 100 to be selected. We were over the moon. It was such an amazing distinction.”

Their daughter’s work would be hanging in one of the most prestigious modern art museums in the nation.

According to the Dali website, the competition and exhibition, which dates back to 1985, seeks to “inspire middle and high school students to explore ideas and visions similar to those explored by Dali and the surrealists.”

The Surrealism movement and the artists like Dali who were considered the pioneers of this new form, explored “a new standard of beauty, and they did this by exploring the images of their dreams and unconscious minds — the part of ourselves we cannot control or censor.”

Von Hausch’s work — a digital work of a girl walking through a field of stars — certainly fits that description. The girl herself is a vivid blue matching some of the atmosphere in which she’s walking, almost floating, through…suggesting maybe she is not separate from her surroundings, but part of them. She’s not walking though the sky and the stars; she is the sky and the stars.”

Von Hausch said she wanted the image “immersed.” She certainly achieved that effect. Looking at the piece, it’s easy to understand why hers was among the 100 selected. It’s dream-like, ethereal, as though you’re tapping into the subconscious of a person experiencing the deepest stages of the sleep cycle…maybe even leaving the body and floating into the sky. Talk about surreal.

It’s not a stretch to say that Von Hausch’s early exposure to the film world has shaped her artistic talents. The Fort Lauderdale native attended her first film festival, the one run by her father of course, three weeks after she was born and has regularly attended festivals in Cannes, Tribecca, Montreal and Berlin. She “began attending foreign films before she could read,” her father says.

“She has always been fascinated with the world,” he says. “Summer days on the beach building sand castles and collecting sea shells, Soleil could spend an hour visually exploring a 5’ x 5’ square of sand, examining the coquina, looking for the small creatures – fiddler crabs, sea squirts, sea beans, and minutia that intricately creates a mosaic. She made our house more of a laboratory of art and various projects than a studio. We were always stepping over, around, on top of things or doing a Cecil B. DeMille effect on the dining room table so we could eat dinner.”

He also believes that she gets the visual arts gene from her mom, Bonnie. “Bonnie also loves dabbling with projects, including a birthday cake that came out of the sea; six-foot paper dolls attached to branches in the forest; parade batons of multi-colors with twenty foot trains of fabric that blew in the breeze; and clever videos. Soleil was influenced by all that. On a spring cruise, one of the housekeepers taught her a little bit about origami. She came home and began experimenting and creating a menagerie of animals and flowers.”

With so much stimuli and encouragement to explore, visual arts aren’t Von Hausch’s only pursuit. She’s built up an impressive dramatic resume as well. She’s been a part of the Summer Musical Theatre Camp since the age of five, appearing as a Gingerbread Cookie in Hansel and Gretel, and has since been in Pochahontas (Mercy Rogers); Phantom of the Opera (Carmela); Snow White (The Mirror); Princess What’s Her Name (a Hippie and a King); Cinderella (one of the evil stepsisters); and various ensemble parts in Big Fish, Bye Bye Biride, and, just a month ago, in the outstanding production of Les Miserables. As an entering freshman at St. Augustine High School, she also been accepted into their Acting Company where she will continue to study theatre, musical theatre and chorus.

As she puts it, “Art is enjoyable to me because there are endless possibilities of what you can do with it. But acting is my passion. I don’t know if I thought I’d become an actress when I started at age 5, but now I know it’s where my heart lies. This summer I’m going to Los Angeles where I hope to get some work as an extra and pick up whatever I can to help achieve my goal.”

For now, Von Hausch can take pride in her inclusion in the Dali Student Surrealist show. The exhibit opened on June 23rd, with a reception at the museum. Dad Gregory remembers, “We felt such pride, and I could tell Soleil did as well. We viewed the amazing works of students from around the State, the Dali had framed each piece and hung with a listing next to the work.” The highlight of the event was when attendees were directed to the auditorium and treated to the curator introducing each student’s work via enlarged Powerpoint duplications on a screen at the front. “The Dali did a magnificent job and Soleil was proud to be part of it,” her father says.