Rhonda Leblanc takes in Gabrielle Hancock’s winner of Best in Show: “Heart of the Sea”

SCOUTING AROUND: 'Heart of the Sea' wins student art show

   Some of the clay was donated and old, but Gabriella Hancock worked with it until it was soft enough to mold. She built up the polymer clay until she could shape it into a heart. The most time-consuming part was making tentacles that replaced the veins and arteries and curled around the heart.
    She was inspired by steampunk and Davy Jones’ locker, and art that combines two ideas. Hancock did a lot of research beforehand, as she often does with her work to either learn a new technique or for accuracy, as with creating both the heart and tentacles.
    For three weeks, the Andrews High School senior worked on the sculpture, all the while making sure everything she did was accurate. It paid off – literally – as Friday night her sculpture, “Heart of the Sea,” won Best in Show and $100 in the Valley River Arts Guild’s Spring Student Art Show.
    Her art teacher – Dedra Davis, who described Hancock as just as intellectual as creative – said Hancock had watercolor, acrylic and charcoal pieces that also could have been contenders, but each student was only allowed to enter one piece.
    The sixth annual juried show was open to all students in grades 9-12. Artwork could be in one of three categories – painting, drawing, and mixed media; three-dimensional works in any media; and photography, graphic arts and computer arts – and cash prizes were awarded for the top three in each category and best in show.    Four high schools in the county were represented in the show, and there were 57 entries. The show will be on exhibit at the Murphy Art Center through April 15. It is sponsored by both the Valley River Arts Guild and Cherokee County Arts Council.
    “In this day and age, when so many schools are cutting art programs, it’s so important to encourage young artists,” said Dianne Gardner, co-chair of the show.
    Brandon Clonts, the art teacher at Murphy High School, said his students work all school year with the art show in mind. For some pieces, he suggested the student enter it, while for others, the student asked if it should be entered. Many students’ submissions were from class assignments, while some are projects students did on their own.
    “They did well. I’m happy,” he said. “Regardless if they win anything or not, I’m proud of them.”
    Davis was proud of her students. Since her school’s entries produced the most winners, her art department won a bonus prize of $100.
    “It’s going to art supplies,” Davis said, adding that she collects materials, including frames, throughout the year for students to use.
    “It’s nice to give some recognition to the teachers, too,” Gardner said. “They are the ones who inspire these kids every day.”
    Gardner said the competition was fierce this year.
    “We’re glad we don’t have to judge it,” said Penny Johnson, the other co-chair.
    The judges were Valley River Arts Guild President Tim Ford, Cherokee County Arts Council Director David Vowell and Bobbi Umbach, a local glass fusion artist. Pieces were judged on the wow factor, skill, talent, creativity and presentation. Before the awards were announced, Vowell encouraged the students to do art of some kind all their lives.
    “When you do it, it makes my community somewhere I really want to live,” he said.
    For the painting, drawing and mixed media category, Meraiah Hunsuker of Andrews High won first, Kera Malin of Andrews High took second and Elissa Dettweiler of Murphy High finished third.
    For three-dimensional works, Ashlin Shires of Andrews High won first, Davis Roberts of Murphy High took second and Trevor Larey of Andrews High finished third.
    For photography, graphic arts and computer arts, Ian Davis of Murphy High won first place, Juliana Aiken of Andrews High took second and Ivan Ponce of Murphy High finished third.
    Most of the artists were at the show, getting the opportunity to talk about their work and admire the work of their peers. Dettweiler, for example, really liked the use of scenery in “Star Gazer” by Stephen Mercer, a fellow Murphy student.
    Hancock’s stepfather, Mike McCray, proudly pointed out her sculpture to others.
    “I’m not surprised because of the creativity I see at home,” he said. “For her winning, I’m glad, because it’s a validation for her.”
    “I love it,” said Jolene McCray, Hancock’s mother. “I know how much time it took her.”
    Hancock plans to go to Mars Hill University and double major in design and marketing. She plans to put the prize money toward college. Meanwhile, her stepfather has plans for her award-winning art.
    “She needs to leave it here when she goes to college so I can hang it up,” he said with a smile.
    Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, scoutingaround@cherokeescout.com; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message at 837-5122.