Nansemond River sophomore earns best in show

Published 10:28 pm Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Even after finding out that her watercolor-and-ink work, “Sissy,” had been awarded best in show for the Exhibit of Excellence — Suffolk Student Art 2020, Madeline Smith was still in shock.

The 16-year-old Nansemond River High School sophomore was one of 129 students who entered 258 works of art. Sharon Swift, professor of art at Virginia Wesleyan University, selected the 91 works to be exhibited.

“I’m still shaking from it, because it’s a really big deal,” Smith said. “It’s really cool.”

Email newsletter signup

To be eligible to enter, students must either live in or attend school in Suffolk, and be in grades 10 through 12. Students in the exhibit represent King’s Fork, Lakeland and Nansemond River high schools, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, the Governor’s School for the Arts and homeschooled students.

“For those students that were chosen,” Swift wrote in outlining how she selected the art to be in the show and the award-winners, “my decisions were based on the following ideas: Does this artwork hold my attention? Is it creative; does it seem original? Is it well-crafted? Can I tell if the artist is committed and excited about making art?

“I can tell your community is blessed with inspiring and creative teachers. That can make a huge difference.”

Of the award-winners, Swift said their work “had special qualities that deserved additional recognition.”

Part of the purpose of the show, according to Suffolk Art League Executive Director Linda Bunch, is to make students go through the process of preparing for a show.

“They have to have a deadline,” Bunch said. “They have to finish the work (and) it has to be presented in a certain way, and it has to be delivered on time. And then it’s judged, which for a lot of students, it’s a big anxiety creator.”

Smith said she spent more than two weeks creating her works, which also included a watercolor-and-colored-pencil piece, “Hall of the Mountain King.” She uses a Pablo Picasso quote that her art teacher, Brian Kershasky, likes to repeat in his classes: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

“It’s like an escape, and you get out and just focus on one thing,” Smith said. “You don’t have to think about everything else that’s going on. Every little movement, you can think about that instead of something that’s troubling you, and I really like it because it’s just a good escape.”

Victoria Lavallee, an 18-year-old NSA senior, said her first-place digital photography entry, “Fate’s Tools,” was done in the space of a couple of hours while playing “Dungeons and Dragons,” a game she plays every Saturday with friends. Her camera tracked 426 frames during the time she was there, though not all of the photos were of dice.

“I procrastinated on a photography project,” Lavallee said, “so I thought, why not dice? They’re beautiful, they’re fun, and I got into a competition with one of my friends where she’d roll the dice and I tried to capture them in mid-air, and that was just the best shot out of all of them.”

Bunch said those who got work into the show should consider that an honor, but even if their work didn’t get selected, she tells students not to get discouraged. She called the student exhibition one of her favorites every year.

“The level of excitement with the students makes it a lot of fun,” Bunch said. “We have some extremely talented kids and some fabulous art teachers that are able to bring that out. I think it’s always one of the best shows we have.”


The 2020 Exhibit of Excellence — Suffolk Student Art award winners:

Best in Show, given in honor of Dana Adams: Madeline Smith, “Sissy,” Watercolor & Ink, Nansemond River High School

First Place: Victoria Lavallee, “Fate’s Tools,” Digital Photography, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy

Second Place: Allison Caudill, “Midnight Rider,” Acrylic, Kings Fork High School

Third Place: Frances Hogg, “Beige Wave,” Encaustic, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy

Honorable Mentions:

Brianna Barnes, “Baby,” Graphite, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy

Emma Blanchard, “Split Personalities,” Digital Art, Liberty University Online Academy

Catherine Kreger, “Where You From,” Digital Art, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy

Sydney Osborne, “Day Smoking,” Acrylic, King’s Fork High School/Governors School for the Arts

Yanda Shen, “Huaiyang Cuisine Kitchen,” Graphite, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy

Juror’s Choice:

Carly Holmes, “Lucid Dreams,” Sun Print with Liquid Watercolors, King’s Fork High School

Lily Kirk, “Celestial,” Mixed Media, Nansemond River High School

Kim Mugaisi, “Inverted Makeup,” Mixed Media, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy

Faith Page, “The Modern Riveter,” Photography with Embroidery Thread, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy

Diana Shifflett, “Wang Meng,” Watercolor, King’s Fork High School

Isabel Whippo, “Overlapping Differences,” Photography, King’s Fork High School