Recent West Forsyth grad is nationally recognized artist

Published 12:10 am Thursday, October 31, 2019

After the Final Bell
By Larry Stombaugh

Rather than fidget and squirm during sermons as a young boy, Jesse Cockerham would draw portrait sketches of the people around him at Ardmore Baptist Church. The creative genius, who graduated from West Forsyth and is now a sophomore at N.C. State, had already discovered his passion for art as a young child.

Fran Paige, who teaches art at Clemmons Elementary, fondly remembers her former student. “Jesse was an amazing student,” she said. “Early on, I realized his talent, design sense and attention to detail. He was always enthusiastic about coming to art class. Jesse’s artwork was regularly picked to represent Clemmons Elementary at the Dixie Classic Fair, Muddy River and Spring Extravaganza art shows. I always had the feeling that he would be the student who would pursue a career in the art field.”

There is a mutual admiration between the young artist and his first classroom art teacher. “She always encouraged her students to do well,” Jesse noted. “She always had high expectations.”

The talented elementary student has matured into an accomplished artist who is now enrolled in the College of Design at N.C. State pursuing a bachelor’s of environmental design in architecture. Dr. Diane Guthrie, a retired music teacher, who also taught Jesse at Clemmons Elementary, noted that he was accepted into the design school without an interview based on his portfolio alone. “I have always recognized in him an easy-going natural ability,” she noted. “One thing that I’ve always loved about Jesse is that he works with whatever he has to work with. He does not need expensive or fancy supplies to create his art.”

Jesse attributes much of his success to two art teachers who influenced him at West Forsyth. He noted that each of them offered different perspectives that have helped to become an accomplished artist. He credits Elizabeth Betson with how to present ideas and to put inspiration into his work, and Nate Newsome for introducing him to the fine arts and to the technical aspect of being an artist.

It was Newsome who encouraged him to submit his painting “Nassau” to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards program. The painting won a regional competition and was then selected from submissions from approximately 1,000 artists and writers out of more than 300,000 applicants for a National Gold Key award. It was also selected to be one of approximately 50 visual artworks as a part of Scholastic’s national tour, and it was on display in a gallery at Pratt University in New York City before traveling across the country to various galleries for display over the last year. Perhaps even more noteworthy is the fact that the painting was featured as the signature piece on the Scholastic website during 2018, the year that Jesse was awarded the Gold Key.

Jesse’s inspiration for “Nassau” came about after he served on a mission trip to the Bahamas where he worked with Haitian refugees.   “I mostly did childcare and Bible studies for children so the parents had some time to do what they needed to do.” he said.  He was struck by the refugees who seemed positive and hopeful despite their challenging circumstances. Jesse summarized his experience by saying, “I wanted to do a painting of my experience there that shows the interaction of joy in the refugees despite their plight.”

A fascinating aspect of Jesse’s art is the amazing variety of work that he produces. His eclectic talent has helped him to produce portraits, sculptures, sketches and building designs. He enjoys incorporating humor into some of his paintings that feature animals in comical outfits and poses. “Some of things that I do are not really what you would expect,” he said. “I do things with animals that make people laugh. You can find the joy in anything.”

When asked what has been his favorite piece of art that he has produced Jesse said, “Oddly enough, it is a life-size sculpture of a monkey. He is about three feet tall.”

After graduating from college, Jesse is planning on a career in architectural design. He is finding that the architecture program at N.C. State is both challenging and enjoyable. “Architecture is a bittersweet program,” he noted. “It’s fun because your work is somewhat permanent because it represents an environment where people can interact with where they live and work.”

Jesse’s work will be featured on Nov. 3 as part of the Arts at Ardmore series at Ardmore Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. A brochure that advertises the event notes that, “In its fifth season, Arts at Ardmore continues to bring local, regional, and national artists to our church to share their God-given gifts to our community.” The event will be held in the Fellowship Hall at the church at 2 p.m.

Jesse’s painting “Nassau,” as well as several other of his works, will be featured at Ardmore Baptist, along with those of other local and regional artists. This is a terrific opportunity for local residents to view the work of an amazing young man whose art has become nationally recognized.  

If you know a young person in our community who has made a significant impact on their school or in the community, please email Larry Stombaugh at for consideration for a story in a future edition of After the Final Bell.