by Bob Bahr

John Seerey-Lester missed last year’s SKB workshop in Dubois. When he returned this year and judged the small paintings show featuring the work of SKB participants, he was bowled over. “It’s been two years since I’ve been here, and I saw a huge increase in the quality of the art,” says Seerey-Lester. “It was amazing. It was very hard to pick the winners this year.”

Larry Wollam won Best of Show with his watercolor painting of a raven grooming another raven in a tough choice that fellow judge Bob Koenke said nearly resulted in fisticuffs among the passionate judges. He added that the clever title helped persuade him to vote for Wollam’s “A Little More to the Left.” Wollam will attend the 2017 SKB workshop in Dubois, Wyoming, free as part of his award.

The Roger Tory Peterson Award for Excellence went to Philip S. Brevick for his mysterious piece “Gulls & Griz.” Judge John Seerey-Lester says, “It’s everything I would want to do in a painting. I like mystery, I like atmosphere. I like things to be not quite in your face, in mist, shadow, rain.” As part of his award, Brevick was asked to produce five pieces to show at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, in Western New York.

Stephen Left won the Jim Parkman Purchase Award for his oil painting “Thomas White.” Andy Wei, an alumni of the Western Art Academy, won the Rising Star Award for his Moleskine sketchbook of faces done in ballpoint pen. “One of the most important things in art, as we all know, is sketching and drawing,” commented Seerey-Lester. “Drawing is very important. Without good drawing, you can’t paint. Having a sketchbook is very important because you are out there all the time, sketching.”

High Plains Frames, which is represented in at the workshop by painter Jeanne Mackenzie, gave an award—one of their frames—to a piece by Patty Kellner. It earned praise from the judges for its frame. Suzy Seerey-Lester, the author of a book on how to properly frame a painting, said, “You all are here to go the next level. One of things to do in that regard is choose a frame that helps your artwork. Mediocre painting in a bad frame is horrible painting. And a good frame can improve a good painting. It adds perceived value to the piece. So do it.” Koenke frankly added, “Many of the pieces we looked at were inadequately framed.”

First Place in the category of Oil and Acrylic went to Kathleen E. Dunn for her piece “The Explorer.” “All of the judges really truly loved this piece, a very beautiful piece,” Seerey-Lester said. “The design is excellent—it’s not too complex, but it’s effective. It draws the viewer’s eye in. You want to look at it more, and as you do, you see more.”

Second Place was won by Thomas Caleb Goggans for “Merging Seasons at Brooks Lake.” “It’s a very simple landscape, but so subtle,” says Seerey-Lester. “What he has achieved with a minimal amount of brushstrokes is amazing.” Third Place went to Kyle Denning for “Sad Boy.” “Keeping the face in a low key while having a bright background is very difficult to achieve and still get the full character of the face,” Seerey-Lester pointed out. Terry Stanley won Honorable Mention in the Oil and Acrylic category for “Becoming Em.”

Laura Young won First Place in the Watercolor division with a painting of a dead European starling. She titled it “Unmourned” because of so many people’s prejudice toward the invasive species. Second Place went to Betty Clark for a simple scene showing two veterans talking in a restaurant. “This is a remarkable piece,” Seerey-Lester said. “There’s light on the face but without a great deal of detail painted in. It’s the simplicity. —it’s not what you put in the painting; it’s what you leave out.” Third Place was won by Carol Peterson for “Sunset on Swan Lake, Grand Tetons.” “This has really nice feel about it,” Seerey-Lester said. “It’s hard to explain, but it has a beautiful feeling, a feel like an Old Master painting. Just a beautiful painting and a great job.” Carolyn Wostenberg earned Honorable Mention in Watercolor for “Thoughts of a Cat.”

The Other Media category was a lively one. The First Place winner was an amazing scratchboard piece titled “The Offering” by Kathleen E. Dunn. The judges explained that they avoid giving two awards to one person in order to share the love around, but Dunn’s oil winner and scratchboard piece were not to be denied. ” We have a problem that we want to make sure that we give awards out to as many people as possible,” Koenke told the audience. “But once in a blue moon there is an exception. We fought and even brought in Jim Parkman for a consultation.” Seerey-Lester simply said, “It’s a stunning, stunning piece in a very difficult medium.”

The Second Place winner was striking as well. Kitty Dodd’s chicken—colored pencil on suede—grabbed the judges. A graphite drawing of horses by Martha Thompson took Third. Honorable Mention went to J. Clayton Bright’s small bronze sculpture of a bison.

Mark Henn’s oil painting of a badger skull, “Days of Future Past,” won Best Wildlife.

The most common comment heard about the show was that it was head and shoulders above past years in terms of quality. Ω