During Keiji Ishida’s vacation last year in Japan, the 17-year-old Los Angeles teen observed an overwhelming number of subway commuters tethered to their cell phones, texting and playing games. “People were quiet — muted,” he noted, “and that just isn’t right.” Not, he continued, in a country alive with so much beauty and expression.
This discomfort sparked Keiji’s creative streak, evident in his painting, “Addiction,” now displayed in Washington, D.C. at the U.S. Department of Education (Department) headquarters, along with 57 other 2016 Scholastic Gold Medal winners in 2- and 3-D art.
Since the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards’ inception in 1923, it has become the nation’s best- known recognition program for teen artists and writers, and their largest source of scholarships. About 250 people attended the Department’s 13th annual celebration of the winners and the opening of the exhibit. Present were 2016 honorees, their teachers and families, art educators and leaders, and Department staff.
Keiji’s painting — splashes of vivid colors covered with black outlines — creates abstract hands holding cell phones.
This year, the Scholastic judges selected 2,500 medalists in grades seven through 12 from almost 320,000 submissions across 29 artistic categories. Past winners include Ken Burns, Truman Capote, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Kay Walkingstick and Andy Warhol.
“We see lots of beautiful work that celebrates nature and family, and plays with language in a joyful way,” Virginia McEnerney, executive director of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, told the audience. “But we also see work that is challenging and probing, that contemplates the mysteries of the universe, worries about the future of the planet, and about race relations, and aging and health care.”
The honored works convey myriad themes, from love, death and identity to politics, peace and technology.
Eighteen-year-old Jane Demarest built a six-foot cardboard couch to which she glued tampons and sanitary pads. The New York City artist entitled her sculpture “Comfort,” which she recognizes may be counter to some public reaction to her work, a photograph of which is on exhibit. With her art, Jane spearheaded a drive to collect women’s hygienic products for the homeless.
In 14-year-old Leo Wall’s drawing, two beat-up tractors sit on either side of a dilapidated truck abandoned in a rolling, verdant landscape. The Richmond, Texas, artist based his work on a photo of a similar real-life scene, which he loved because, within the stunning setting, “something so ordinary could be so beautiful.”
Behind each winner lies “hidden forces,” explained Deborah B. Reeve, executive director of the National Art Education Association. “What we don’t see is the early awakening of human potential — their very first marks made at the hands of their first teachers — parents,” she said. Nor do we see “… the evolution of human potential as it matures under the influence of excellent art educators,” or “… the whole child … and how their … world view … is shaped in part by the artistic processes …”
Aline Dolinh, one of the 2013 National Student Poets, won a Scholastic Gold Medal this year for “Romance Disguised as Portent of Doom,” which the University of Virginia freshman read to the audience. It begins “I fall in love the same way//deer break open on asphalt//after meet-cutes with minivans. . .”
Jessica Clark received a Golden Educators Residency award from Scholastic. A Native American artist, she documents and celebrates the everyday life of the 60,000 Lumbee people who have been in the same southern area of the U.S. for 10,000 years. Clark described her combined career: “Being a teaching artist, I learn from [my students] all the time … I think [they] respect me more as a teacher when they see I can create along with them. … Students change teaching artists’ work.”
The exhibit will remain at the Department until August 2017; a special collection of Scholastic Regional Award winners from New York City will be displayed through October 2016. Books containing works by award-winning writers accompany the exhibit.
Nancy Paulu is an editor and writer in the Office of Communications and Outreach (OCO) at the U.S. Department of Education. Amanda Cary, an OCO intern, contributed to the blog.
All Department photos are by Tony Hitchcock. More photos from the event may be viewed at https://www.flickr.com/photos/128781046@N08/albums/72157670860377733
The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at [email protected]/.