by Bob Bahr

In the last couple of years, the people charged with the task of judging the Small Works show at the SKB Rendezvous & Workshop have publicly noted a serious uptick in the quality of the entries. They seemed flabbergasted by the level of work submitted this year.

As the exhibition continues to evolve over the years, different criteria has emerged. “This year there were a lot of pieces that really spoke to you, and art should really communicate with the viewer,” said Robert Koenke, one of the judges, during the onstage announcement of this year’s winners.

“Every painting up there was worthy of being in this show, but what we were looking for was a new approach,” added judge Laurin McCracken. “What we were looking for was the fresh approach, the fresh approach to color, a fresh approach to seeing things differently.”

“Fall Is in the Air,” by Elizabeth LaRowe, acrylic, 5 x 7 in. FIrst Place, Oil & Acrylic

In the category of Oil & Acrylic paintings, that meant choosing “Fall Is in the Air,” by Elizabeth LaRowe—a 5″-x-7″ acrylic piece that packed a lot of power in its small format, earning it First Place. “If there ever was an example of the power of a painting having nothing to do with size, it is this one,” McCracken noted.

“Meara,” by Stephen Left, oil, 12 x 9 in. Second Place, Oil & Acrylic

As Stephen Left won Second Place with a portrait of Scholarship Artist Meara Sauer, and Jane Coleman won Third Place with “Wyoming Pronghorn,” Koenke was moved to say, “I like seeing artists I’ve seen for years at this workshop grow and win awards.” Honorable Mention in the category went to newcomer Maryam Hjersted for her piece “Spectrum Flow.”

“Wyoming Pronghorn,” by Jane Coleman, oil, 9 x 12 in. Third Place, Oil & Acrylic

“Spectrum Flow,” by Maryam Jjersted, 11 1/2 x 15 1/2 in. Honorable Mention, OIl & Acrylic

“Cool Night Shadows,” by J.R. Monks, watercolor, 8 x 10 in. First Place, Watercolor

In Watercolor, J.R. Monks took home the First Place ribbon for “Cool Night Shadows.” “If you want to see what can be done en plein air, come and study this painting,” asserted McCracken.

“Libby Creek,” by Joy Keown, watercolor, 13 x 16 in. Second Place, Watercolor

“Sharing a Drink on Pryor Mountain,” by Martha Thompson, watercolor, 12 x 9 in. Third Place, Watercolor

Joy Keown won Second Place with “Libby Creek,” a piece that the judges said they felt elevated a mundane view to a high level. “This is one of those scenes you pass everyday and you don’t think anything about it, sure that there is something better up the road,” McCracken commented. “But she saw what was in there, and we’re the better for it.” Martha Thompson earned Third Place for “Sharing a Drink on Pryor Mountain,” and Gail Ishmael won Honorable Mention for “Light Path on Flowers,” a piece that moved McCracken to utter, “Delicate, masterful, dead on.”

“Light Path on Flowers,” by Gail Ishmael, watercolor, 12 x 16 in. Honorable Mention, Watercolor

“Nuthatch’s Ascent, by Chris Rowlands, 7 x 13 in. First Place, Mixed Media

Painter and musician Chris Rowlands earned First Place in the Mixed Media category for “Nuthatch’s Ascent,” which McCracken praised for its sparse treatment of the subject. Then Rowlands interjected. “It was going to have another bird and a tree in it, but my queen said, ‘Yer done’,” Rowlands recalled, speaking about his wife.

“At Ease,” by Cathy Farrell, bronze, 3 x 8 x 4 in. Second Place, Mixed Media

“Watching…Waiting,” by Sharyn Binam, 5 x 12 in. Third Place, Mixed Media

Cathy Ferrell’s small bronze sculpture “At Ease” won Second Place, and Sharyn Binam won Third Place with a piece with compressed values and an interesting frame job. “Watching…Waiting,” which depicts an American crocodile, is placed in a wide mat that puts it off center, as if the viewer is catching the reptile out of the corner of his or her eye—and the croc is doing similar. Janet Waldron pulled in Honorable Mention for “You Looking at Me?!”

“You Looking at Me?!” by Janet Waldron, 8 x 10 in. Honorable Mention, Mixed Media

The award for best work by the Scholarship Attendees went to two returning scholars. Anna Rose, from Ohio, won First Place with “Turnstone on a Stormy Day,” an acrylic painting that had McCracken crowing “She was an award winner last year and again this year and she will be henceforth forevermore.” Jil Brevick’s self-portrait in acrylic earned her Second Place.

“Turnstone on a Stormy Day,” by Anna Rose, acrylic, 8 x 10 in. First Place, Scholars

“Self-Portrait #1,” by Jil Brevick, acrylic, 12 x 9 in. Second Place, Scholars

SKB also gives a few special awards each year at the workshop. This year in Dubois, the Framing Award went to Jared Brady for “Basking in the Sun,” which featured a symmetrical, polygon shaped frame similar to a blonde-wood diamond. The painting itself was utterly charming—a portrait of a blissful golden retriever. “Framing enhances your piece,” McCracken simply stated. “It’s not your work, but it is what compliments your work, and makes it glow, shine, and look important.”

“Basking in the Sun,” by Jared Brady, oil, 14 x 9 1/2 in. Best Frame

The Jim Parkman Purchase Award went to Rusty Frentner for “Water Break,” an announcement that got whoops and hollers from SKBers. “Everybody in this room knows him and what a craftsman and an artist he is,” the judges said.

“Water Break,” by Rusty Frentner, oil, 9 x 12 in. Jim Parkman Purchase Award

Most years, John and Suzie Seerey-Lester award the Roger Tory Peterson Award for wildlife art, but John was having health issues that prevented traveling. SKB officials worked it out via technology so the Seerey-Lesters could pick a winner from Florida. Lee Cable organized the procedure. “I took photos of pieces that he might pick,” recalled Cable. “And then I sent them to Suzy. She said, ‘Wow wow wow wow.’ John and Suzie picked this piece, and John asked, ‘What do you think?’ And I said, ‘Excellent choice.'” The winner was “Silence is Golden,” a striking oil painting of a mountain lion, by Rebekah Knight.

“Silence Is Golden,” by Rebekah Knight, oil, 9 x 12 in. Roger Tory Peterson Award

Lastly, the judges chose a Best of Show, an oil painting that the judges called “a showstopper” that “jumps off the wall.” “It sparkles and goes right to the top of the list,” said one judge. The Best of Show for SKB’s Small Works exhibition in 2019 went to Christine E. White for her 10″-x-10″ painting “A Very Lucky Chicken.”

“A Very Lucky Chicken,” by Christine E. White, oil, 10 x 10 in. Best of Show

White recalled that while she was visiting Deborah Day, another California SKBer, Day’s granddaughter showed up and asked if White wanted to “meet my chicken.” White, of course, said yes, and coerced the model and her charge to go outside for a reference photo. The result was the top winner at SKB. “The more you look at it, the more you see and appreciate the craftsmanship and the light and the art and the personality of the person in it,” said McCracken. Ω