EDUCATION: Winning Artists

By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Most people probably remember their mother sticking their crayon drawings on the refrigerator, but a few Tupelo High School art students just never stopped.
This year, THS art classes made an astounding appearance at the annual Scholastic Art Contest, with four students earning the top distinction on the regional level, three students earning the next highest distinction and six earning honorable mention awards. Their pieces were selected from a total of 1,734 submissions and 122 portfolios – a collective group of a student’s best eight pieces.
Students winning top – “Gold Key” – and next-highest – “Silver Key” – awards will have their work displayed at the Brooks Museum of Art on the campus of Memphis College of Art from Jan. 26 through Feb. 17. Those with the top distinction will have their work submitted to the national level of judging in New York City.
For Gold Key recipients Larkin Hudson, Casey Marshall, Shannon Shepherd and Rachael Holman, it was quite a shock.
“I don’t think we ever expected to win,” Marshall said. “There are so many great entries, and we also were competing with art high schools.”
Hudson, the only junior in the group, said it was surreal to come out on top in a competition mostly dominated by seniors.
“The more experienced usually win in competition, so winning best-in-show for an individual piece was really cool,” he said. “When you look back at work you were proud of as an underclassman, it kind of makes you cringe. But it just shows how far you’ve come.”
The students said their teacher, Anna Garner, was integral to their success because she pushes them to try difficult techniques in an array of mediums. Garner said it is an advantage to have the same students for up to three years. They come to understand each other’s capabilities and expectations.
“They put a lot of overtime in on their projects,” Garner said. “They come work on it during lunch, during exams, senior leave, even during the summer. You can’t ask more than that.”
Holman said after hours of meticulous work, their art has truly become a labor of love.
“I’m very emotionally attached to them. You never feel like they are perfect, or even finished,” she said. “Lots of people see the end product and think it comes naturally, but they don’t see how much time goes into it.”
Garner said this year was the first in at least 15 years for THS to have a student place at the regional level of the contest. Gold and Silver Key winners will be awarded scholarship money in a Feb. 2 ceremony to take place at the Brooks Museum.
“Having their work on display in the Brooks Museum is a big honor in itself,” Garner said. “Their art is hanging right there next to works by Monet and others.”
From there, Gold Key winners will digitally submit their work to a judging panel in New York, where they will make a round of cuts. Those who make the cut will send their work to be judged in person, and the winners of that round of judging will have their work displayed in Carnegie Hall and will receive a $10,000 scholarship.
Shepherd, who remembers dancing when she heard she had won over Christmas break, said she will be pleased no matter the outcome in New York.
“My work will be judged against the best in the country, so I’m nervous and a little scared, but I am so glad to have gotten this far,” she said.
riley.manning@journalinc.com