Choosing winners for an art competition is not simply
giving ribbons to works that please you personally. It takes
knowledge of various art media and genre, art history, a keen
eye for technique and the curiosity of a sleuth.
For someone to say, "I know what I like and that's good
enough" is not good enough for judging an art competition,
said artist and competition juror Harry Messersmith.
The former director of the DeLand Museum of Art recently
named 13 works as award winners at the Strawbridge Art
League's Vision 2007 juried art show.
"It takes an eye that has seen a lot of art in cities and
great museums as well as local art shows and community
events," Messersmith said.
It's also important to bring in someone from out of town
when picking a judge, said John Emery, vice president for
programs for the Strawbridge Art League.
That's the way to make sure they will be objective, he
"The idea is that they are not intimately acquainted with
artists in the community and they can just look at the artwork
Messersmith spent about three hours viewing the 181 entries
from 82 artists before selecting the 111 pieces from
artists for the show.
He then had to choose the special awards. From the rest, he
chose the winner and the merit awards.
"I was with him when he was judging," said Denice
vanWaardenburg, president of exhibits. "He was very, very
thorough. He looked at each piece of art carefully and lifted
it up to the light."
When a juror also is an artist, such as Messersmith, he or
she has studied and lived art and the processes behind
"It informs a well-versed juror," he said. "The processes
give you insight into the struggle. That really helps me see
and know what I'm looking at."
He was smart enough about the process to ask questions
about Agnes Manganelli's colored pencil drawing "The Simple
Things in Life" before he awarded it the Best of Show.
The pencil drawing was so well-done, he wanted to make sure
it wasn't digitally transferred or drawn with the help of an
"After getting that confirmation, it helped me understand
what I was looking at," he said. "You need to be a sleuth and
ask questions and know what you're looking at. Not just pass
over something because you didn't understand it. You have to
set your personal likes aside."
While you may not have the deep background Messersmith does
when it comes to picking winning art, there are some
guidelines you can use in choosing good art.
Harmony among the "three C's -- craftsmanship, composition
This is what Messersmith noticed immediately about "The
Simple Things in Life." Those three C's came together in such
harmony, the work transcended the raw materials of the medium,
"It was amazing," he said. "It was truly outstanding in all
regards. Up close and far away. It was beguilingly
Scale or understatement.
When Messersmith viewed the gold award winner, Sandy
Johnson's "Kenansville Cattle Drive," he felt a power to the
simplified forms in the image.
"In comparative competition, frankly I'm trying to find the
best in the room, he said. "The ideas of what can be an award
winner can shift all over the place. It depends on who showed
up that day. So many amateur artists include too much
information they didn't know how to draw well. If you can't
handle your composition, leave some of it out. Simplify it and
do the rest well."
Barbara Burkhardt's "Ships Chain II" won the silver award
for this dynamic. Her watercolor here is evocative of nude
"What was left out was as important as what was painted,"
Messersmith said. "The simplification of the form made them
monumental. The horizon was left out and a reference to human
scale, like the size of a hand or head. There is no reference
to how big these things are."
Mastery of technique and interpretation.
Messersmith saw this in the work of Barbara Leto's "Pearson
Pears." The work won the bronze award.
"Leto's work has a sense of accumulated history," he said.
"The impasto and layerings (painting techniques) created this
mystery of surface and what was underneath. . . . There are
layers of information here for the viewer's discovery."
He also saw "some interesting things going on with the
meaning" in how we "compartmentalize our soul into different
This was seen immediately in John Slater's "Five O'Clock
Shadow," which won the Marlene Comittino Memorial Award.
"I liked the directness of the painting," Messersmith said.
"You can see the joy in the brushstroke. There's not much
wiping out or correcting. It's done straight on. . . . The
light and shadow is what we enjoy, not the struggle of the
Messersmith said of all the plein air painters represented
in the exhibition, Slater's work showed he had "really studied
and practiced his art."
That's what won the Barbara Thompson Award for Oils to
Thomas Jewusiak's "Ponce Inlet Light 2."
Although bordering on illustration, the magic is in the
detail, Messersmith said.
"There are times when the detail will carry work over into
the realm of magic realism because the light and shadow are so
crisp that the architectural volumes pop out like they're
three-dimensional," he said. "That's the magic in this
The piece works as art rather than illustration because the
details in the background, middleground and foreground are so
Finely hued assemblages.
DX Ross's "Oceana Sea Bird" was awarded the Sandee Nolen
Surrealist Modern Art Award.
Messersmith said her work stands out in two areas: The
connecting points in the assemblage are carefully fitted, and
the materials have been carefully selected.
"You're jarring our conscientiousness with juxtaposition of
these items, and she did it very well," he said.
Loretta Schnitzius' "Fruit Salad" received the Brevard
Watercolor Society Award for its challenging composition.
"It's hard to pull off," Messersmith said. "I think she did
that well. The negative space becomes a strong form in the
composition to interplay with these (fruit-filled) bowls."
Contact Harbaugh at 242-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.