Young Arkansas artists earn spots in gallery linked to U.S. Capitol
By Frank E. Lockwood
WASHINGTON -- Works by four talented young Arkansas artists are now on display at one of the capital's most popular art galleries, a well-traveled tunnel that links the House Office Buildings to the U.S. Capitol.
While not as well-known as the National Gallery of Art or the National Portrait Gallery, the subterranean art space is heavily traveled and carefully guarded.
Emma Edmonds of Fort Smith, Heidi Tandiono of Little Rock, Dominique Palucis of Ratcliff and AnnElise Jarrett of Paragould earned spots on the wall by winning this year's Congressional Art Competition.
Wednesday, they joined hundreds of other winners for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a reception.
Afterward, they posed for pictures with their winning entries, pausing to admire art from the other states.
Each of the 435 congressmen can select one winner from his district. Delegates from U.S. territories and the District of Columbia also embrace the program.
"We had 428 of the offices participate this year. It's a record number," said Mark Strand, president of the Congressional Institute.
The nonprofit group, "dedicated to helping Members of Congress better serve their constituents and helping their constituents better understand the operations of the national legislature," sponsors the contest.
Most of the winners are high school students, although younger entrants occasionally get the prize.
Since the art competition was launched in 1982, more than 650,000 students have submitted artwork for the display.
Rather than picking the top works themselves, many lawmakers appoint a committee to handle the task.
Each year, the artwork is incredible, Strand said.
"The wonderful thing about it is, it's as diverse as the country. There's some pictures that are very traditional, portraits, some pictures that are fantasy, some pictures sending a message," he said. "They're kids from Indian reservations, kids from rural areas, kids from urban areas who otherwise would never get their art seen by anybody are now going to be seen by millions."
The Arkansas winners are geographically diverse.
Edmonds represents U.S. Rep. Steve Womack's Northwest Arkansas district. Tandiono comes from U.S. Rep. French Hill's central Arkansas district. Palucis is the designee for U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman's district, which covers Pine Bluff, southwest Arkansas and a sliver to the north.
Jarrett won top honors for U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford's district, which includes northeast Arkansas and a string of counties stretching along the Mississippi River.
Under the House's rules, "exhibits depicting subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature are not allowed."
Last year, a painting by a Missouri student was taken down because it featured protesters and gun-wielding pigs in police uniforms.
But art with political overtones, if it's not too inflammatory, is often allowed.
Edmonds, 18, who recently graduated from Southside High School, submitted a painting titled "Oceanic Deconstruction."
It features skyscrapers, seemingly submerged in seawater. They share space with jellyfish, coral, a tortoise and a school of clownfish.
"It's supposed to represent the impact of man-made things on the ocean," she said.
The style of painting is surrealism, she said.
"It's like taking something real but then painting it in a way that's kind of fantasy," she explained.
Tandiono, 17, a senior at Central High School, submitted a self-portrait titled "Mirror Image."
On Wednesday, she wandered the halls, admiring her fellow artists.
"I think all the art here is very beautiful. It's very inspiring and you can see the different views of the country. ... Patriotism, immigration, voting. It shows that there's so much out there to see in our country," she said.
For Tandiono, art is sometimes a pressure valve.
"It helps me a lot to de-stress, I guess. And it's really good for self-expression," she said.
Jarrett, 16, drew a fox in a black-and-white world. It stares, intently, at a full-color pool of water, mesmerized by what it has encountered.
She called the painting "What Does the Fox See?"
A junior at Greene County Tech High School, Jarrett says she'd like to be a professional artist one day.
Gazing at the other entries, she expressed admiration for what she had seen.
"There's a lot of talent here and it's beautiful," she said. "You can look at each picture and you can see someone else's story in it because it has its own emotion."
Palucis, just 13 years old, was the youngest of the Arkansas winners.
After the awards ceremony, Palucis and her parents met up with Westerman so they could take pictures and visit for a few minutes.
Palucis, who will be an eighth grader at County Line High School in Branch, called her submission "Amalgam," which means "a mixture or blend."
The subject of her piece is diverse and brightly colored.
"It's different races in one woman," she explained.
Palucis' father, John Drewry, said Dominique has always been artistic.
"I always just say it's a gift from God. It's a God-given talent. She didn't get any training. She just knows how to do it," he said.
A panel back in Arkansas was responsible for selecting Palucis, Westerman said.
"Fortunately, I don't have to pick it myself," the Republican from Hot Springs said. "I find so much beauty in so many different pieces, I would have a really hard time [choosing] a winner."