By Joel Hall
Nearly 100 patrons crowded into the Arts Clayton gallery in Jonesboro Thursday for the opening reception of the 2009 Juried Show and Competition.
Judges from several area art museums, along with the patrons, reviewed 70 two- and three-dimensional pieces, some by artists hailing from the Southern Crescent.
This year's Best in Show winner was the painting "Company," by Michael Sawecki, of Hampton. Arts Clayton will purchase the piece and make it part of its permanent collection.
Other winners in this year's competition were: Steve Pritchard (first place); Kathaleen Brewer (second place); Barry Benner (third place, and Juror's Award); Anthony Lee (Patron's Award); Ginger-Lou Fulton (honorable mention) and Linh Nguyen (honorable mention).
Karen Powers, Arts Clayton's gallery manager, said the winning entries represented a variety of mediums and artistic styles, and the eighth-annual competition drew some of the best work ever displayed at the gallery.
"Everybody here has had nothing but positive things to say about the art work," Powers said.
This year, the competition lowered its 18-and-up age restriction to allow artists ages 16 and older to enter. On Thursday, Lee, 17, of Riverdale, became the youngest person to place in the competition when opening-night patrons selected his white charcoal piece, "Brothers in the Woods," as the winner of the Patron's Award.
A home-schooled student with plans of attending Savannah College of Art and Design, Lee said the Arts Clayton show was his first time in a major art competition.
"It makes me feel honored," Lee said. "I don't take it lightly. It's a great chance to show my skills and my love for art."
He said he hopes the contest will give him the recognition he needs to earn college scholarships.
Steve Pritchard, of Winston, won first place for his wood-turning piece, "Counting the Days Until You Return." The piece, inspired by those waiting for soldiers to return home from the battlefield, is an intricately decorated bowl carved out of a single piece of wood.
Pritchard said he is pleased that his work was able to stand beside more traditional, two-dimensional artwork.
"Normally, people think of fine art as a two-dimensional painting," said Pritchard. "Particularly with all the exquisite two-dimensional art work, to get it [first place] for turned wood, I'm very pleased. I think it gives the show, no pun intended, more dimensions."
Nancy Hutchinson, a patron and Jonesboro resident for 41 years, said she appreciates having fine art so close to home.
"I think that every small town needs a touch of culture," she said. "We don't have to drive downtown, because we have it here."