Art for their ages: Annual exhibit showcases high school artists

"Obsessions," an oil painting by Brenda Young, from Hurricane High School, which earned an Award of Excellence at the 41st Annual All-State High School Art Show at the Springville Museum of Art. Ph: Springville Museum of Art

High school sports teams get lots of attention, but what about high school, er, art teams? Are those even a thing? Virgil Jacobsen, assistant director and curator of education at the Springville Museum of Art, said that some people have at least been thinking along those lines. The museum is currently in the midst of its 41st Annual Utah All-State High School Art Show, showcasing the work of students from every corner of the Beehive State.

"One of the teachers went to their administrator and said, 'We offer a bus to take students to the all-state football game. Why not for the all-state high school art show?' " Jacobsen said. "They got what they asked for."

It's not the sort of thing that could happen just anywhere in America. Jacobsen said he doesn't know of a single other statewide juried show for high school artists in the western United States. The All-State High School Art Show is open to every high school in Utah and Jacobsen said that more schools participate every year.

In 2013, 88 high schools submitted 916 works of art. The museum chose 328 to be displayed during the show, and 75 awards have been announced, and will be presented at a free public reception at 11 a.m. Saturday.

One of the award winners is 18-year-old Rebecca Wood of Orem, a senior at Timpanogos High School whose portrait "Master in the Making" won the Director's Award (roughly equivalent to a best-in-show award). After finding out about her big win, Wood said, "I was so excited and thrilled and honored. It was hard going to school and not just telling everyone."

Museum director Rita Wright said that the All-State High School Art Show helps students explore art as a potential career by participating in a professional-caliber show. "For many of them, this is the first time they've had to write an artist's statement, to think critically about their work," Wright said. The museum produces a professional catalog for the show every year that lists every work accepted for display.

Each high school that participates in the show does some jurying of its own before pieces even get to the museum: Schools are only allowed to submit a number of works equal to 1.5 percent of the total number of students in the school's junior and senior classes.

Jacobsen and six jurors chose the winners of the Director's Award, four Master's Awards, 10 Excellence Awards and 20 Merit Awards, as well as selecting the total number of works to be displayed in 10 galleries during the show. Painter Casey Childs of Pleasant Grove, who served as a juror for the first time, said that selecting the award-winning works and works for display took an entire day.

"We showed up at 8 and didn't leave until after 5," Childs said. He said that the jurors made a first pass, where each juror looked at every submission, to determine which pieces would be displayed. After narrowing it down, the jury went back through the pieces chosen for the show a second time to select award winners.

Childs said that Utah clearly has lots of young artistic talent. One of the pieces that particularly caught his eye was a scratch board etching of a sleeping dog ("Sweet Dreams" by Emily Allred of Olympus High School in Holladay). "I wanted to buy that one and take it home with me," Childs said. "But it was marked 'not for sale.' "

Jacobsen said that most of the pieces in the show are not for sale, but that a few of them are, including the one chosen for the Ennis and Geri Gibbs Purchase Award, "Monsters Are Everywhere" by Fiona Matisse Barney of Mountain View High School in Orem. "She had listed her piece for sale for $75," Jacobsen said. "I had the privilege of calling her and asking whether she would accept $500."

The show also awards a number of scholarships, tours select pieces to locations throughout Utah, and sends four paintings each year to Washington, D.C. — one for each of Utah's congressional districts — to be hung for a year in the United States Capitol.

There's also special recognition for one art teacher and one student who are named Outstanding Art Educator (Delta High School's Craig Hansen this year) and Outstanding Art Student (Brenda Young of Hurricane High School) of the year.

Outstanding Art Educator is the only recognition for teachers, but Jacobsen said that art teachers play a major role in making the show a success each year. "It's an effort on the teacher's part, a huge effort," he said. "We try to recognize that by listing all of the teachers in the catalog."

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Young 'Master' — Orem teen wins Director's Award

Timpanogos High School student Rebecca Wood began her senior year with a goal already in place: She wanted to win big at the Springville Museum of Art's 41st Annual Utah All-State High School Art Show, either the Director's Award, a first-place Congressional Award, or the Outstanding Art Student recognition. "I had gone to the awards show last year," she said. "At the beginning of the school year, I knew what I wanted."

Her piece for the show is a portrait of a friend and fellow painter titled "Master in the Making." "It was a Christmas gift," Wood said. "I had been doing some studying of neoclassic and Baroque portraits. I really like the lighting in the Baroque paintings, and the realism of the flesh in the neoclassic. I really wanted to put her in that look."

Wood learned to use glazes for the portrait and said that she ended up choosing it for the All-State High School Art Show because it showed sound technique. "Out of all of my pieces, I felt that the craftsmanship was probably the best. It looked professional."

One person who agreed is Casey Childs, a professional portrait painter and one of the jurors for the All-State High School Art Show. "It's definitely the best painting in the show," Childs said, and he's apparently not the only juror who felt that way — Wood will officially receive the Director's Award for "Master in the Making" on Saturday.

She got the word a few weeks back from the museum's curator of education and assistant director, Virgil Jacobsen. "He called me and my phone is always on silent, so I missed his call," Wood said. "When I called him back, I kind of had a feeling that something good had happened."

Wood said she's been sketching since kindergarten, and started to get good before making it to junior high school. "The thing that motivated me the most is that my teachers would compliment me," she said. Especially her sixth-grade teacher, John Poynter of Orchard Elementary School in Orem. "He told me he would keep my pictures forever," Wood said, "because he knew that they'd be valuable after I became famous."

The encouragement hasn't stopped. Anna Davis, who teaches art at Timpanogos High School, said that Wood already does paintings on commission. "She's about as talented as I've ever seen," Davis said.

Eventually, Wood hopes to become an art teacher herself. She'll be heading to Brigham Young University in the fall to study art education. "I feel like art is important and I don't want it to die out" of the education system, Wood said. "I want people to be able to enjoy it as much as I do."

-- Cody Clark is the Daily Herald film critic and all-purpose Life & Style writer.
Read more from Cody Clark here.