Artists For Life: Oakwood Arts Alumni Stories

The arts have always flourished in Oakwood. A few of our more notable alumni share their stories about how their time in Oakwood schools shaped, and continue to shape, their careers.

Petah Coyne, ‘72, “Going so far for students”

Petah Coyne’s first bronze cast was a ballerina. She cast it while a student at Oakwood High School. “Itwasn’t very good,” She jokes. But she still has the ballerina to this day. Most high school students do not bronze cast as part of their arts education. But Mr. Carmichael, “Mr. C.” as Petah remembers him, went “so far” for his students.

Upon learning that Petah wanted to pursue bronze casting, Mr. C located a local metalworks and took a younger Petah on a field trip to downtown Dayton to practice her craft, Petah recalls. It was there that they took the mold of the ballerina she had created in class to cast in molten hot bronze. This celebration and support for his students’ interests was not out of character for the art teacher. Mr. C was always encouraging them to explore their artistic talents.

Today Petah resides in New York City where her art studio is located. In 2022 she is participating in the group exhibition Crazy at Chiostro del Bramante in Rome, Italy. For this year-long show, centered around the theme of creative madness, Coyne will present an installation of nine new hanging wax sculptures, titled “Color of Heaven”, Coyne has won several awards, including the Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Award, The Rockefeller Foundation Award, and three National Endowment for the Arts Awards. Her work also resides in the permanent collections of numerous museums. You can find
out more about her illustrious and award-winning work at: https://www.petahcoyne.org/

bronze ballerina cast
Beth Stelling

Beth Stelling, ‘03, “Seeing those things made me want to do those things.” 

Beth Stelling can still name the stars of Lumberjack theater. Lucinda Williams and Alan Brothers in Damn Yankees. Becky Webb Brenning in the Princess and the Pea. Jeb Burress as Harold Hill in the Music Man. Each of these students have had a lifelong impact on Beth. “Seeing those things made me want to do those things.” 

Now, Beth lives in Los Angeles where she works as a TV screenwriter, while also performing stand up comedy. (She jokes that it was a fellow Oakwood student who introduced her to stand-up comedy, by burning her a CD.) She credits her time at Oakwood, especially competing with the Speech and Debate team, as preparing her for the writers’ room and comedy scene. Practicing her piece for the original humor taught her how to practice and perfect a stand up routine, as well as made her comfortable being the only woman in the room, she jokes. 

You can find out more about Beth at https://bethstelling.com. Her stand-up special, Girl Daddy, is streaming on HBO Max. 

Joshua Halpern, ‘12, Credits Oakwood Strings teacher Nan Watson for his love for the Cello. 

“It was cozy in real estate terms,” joked Josh Halpern, class of 12, to his former strings teacher, Ms. Nan Watson. “We had a nice ceiling, vaulted, great light,” Ms. Watson recalls back to Josh. They are referring to the music classroom at Harman Elementary, the room where Ms. Watson first instructed Josh on playing the cello.

Long since graduated from Harman Elementary, Joshua currently plays cello with the  Berliner Philharmoniker in Berlin, Germany. He has played in Latin America, Europe, and the United States, but in between traveling has kept in touch with his Oakwood music teacher, Ms. Watson. Without her, who knows what Josh would be up to today.

Ms. Watson describes her time as a music teacher as rewarding. (“To see Josh come from starting the cello over at Harman, from catapulting to a great career on the cello,” She said.) Her love for each student is apparent and, unsurprisingly, she keeps in touch with a number of her former students, including those who are orchestra teachers themselves. 

For more information on Joshua, or to watch some of his performances, visit: https://joshuahalperncello.com/

Josh Halpern
Danielle Heaton

Danielle Heaton, ‘10, “Encourages young artists to try everything”

“Try everything.” That is Danielle Heaton’s (OHS ‘10), advice to Oakwood students involved in the arts. If anyone would know about trying everything, it would be Danielle, whose resume includes founding a comedy sketch group as well as teaching ASL to children and parents through music with the program “BabyFingers”. Today, Danielle lives in Los Angeles, where she continues to act, sing, dance, and star in commercials and indie films. 

Her passion for the arts and comedy was something Danielle began to explore while at Oakwood High School, where she participated in orchestra, choir, as well as competing with the Speech and Debate team. She credits the teachers at Oakwood High School for their support, and for the school allowing her to explore her many different talents. “ I didn’t just see myself as only a singer- and I was able to explore a lot of different interests and Oakwood allows their students to do this in a supportive and creative environment.” 

Danielle also understands the lifelong impact of an arts education and the importance of a supportive foundation. “Art is life and without it, children would not be able to communicate or express themselves or build those kinds of helpful connections to prepare them for life outside of school.” 

You can learn more about Danielle, and read her hilarious bio, at: https://danielleheaton.com/