The student’s work is still available for viewing in the Nancy Wilson Scanlan Gallery in the Helm Fine Arts Center. No admission is required to experience the remarkable work of some of the best up and coming artists of our time – students from across Central Texas who won the top honor (the Gold Key Award) at this year’s Scholastic Art & Writing Awards
for the Austin, Texas Art Region. St. Stephen’s has proudly hosted this event for hundreds of public, private and homeschool students in grades 7-12 in Travis, Williamson and Hays Counties since the 1990s. The popular and well-known awards program started in 1923, which means it turned 101-years-old this year!
Congratulations to two St. Stephen’s juniors, Gracie Morton ’25 and Leela Weisser ’25, who were both selected as American Visions Nominees. This “best in show” honor is given to students whose work exemplifies the awards’ core values of originality, skill, and the emergence of a personal voice or vision. Gracie and Leela’s winning works were two of only five pieces selected by the judges – out of nearly 1,800 entries – to represent the region and be considered for the American Visions Medal.
Leela used an old wooden door from the school’s theater department as her canvas to create her 3D art installation. It is part of her larger senior portfolio that centers around the theme of her childhood and growing up abroad. There are two self portraits of Leela painted on the door. In one instance, she is looking through the empty hole where the door knob would be. If you lean down and look through the door knob hole, you see the face of a young girl painted on a canvas behind the door. Coming up with the idea was a team effort.
“My peers helped me,” said Leela. “They gave me the idea of doing installation.”
Students selected to receive American Visions Medals will be invited to attend a reception at Carnegie Hall, plus engage in a week’s worth of tours and workshops in New York City in June. Quite a few Spartans have received this honor in the past.
In the overall competition, judges handed out 129 Gold Key awards, 181 Silver Keys and 273 Honorable Mentions. All gold award winners will move on to the national competition in NYC. Congratulations to senior Spartans’ Jerry Zhang ’24 who received a Gold Key for his senior portfolio, and Isabella Ratcliff ’24 and Anna Guan ’24 who both received a Silver Key Award for their portfolios. These awards
would not have been possible without the work and mentorship from e our wonderfulSpartan art instructors and facilitators: Michelle Avery, Chris Caselli, Mike Dolan, Britt Thorp and Liz Zepeda.
While hosting this regional event for 51 schools in the region is an honor, it is no small task. Scholastic Art Regional Director and SSES Visual Arts Instructor Liz Zepeda has led the massive effort since she arrived on The Hill in 2012, and says she wouldn’t take back a second of the time and effort she and others have put in to help students feel seen, heard and valued through their work.
“It’s really about giving these kids the opportunity. For some, it’s the first time students get to see their work in a gallery setting,” said Zepeda. It's not on a bulletin board in the hallway or laying out on the gymnasium floor.”
She spends months seeking out more than a dozen diverse, local artists to serve as judges, who can all spend an entire Saturday in early January on Zoom in breakout rooms analyzing, interpreting and judging the artwork. Volunteer parents and employees serve as moderators on Zoom, and St. Stephen’s art students run the technical side of the digital production, from the Becker Library computer lab, which is transformed into the Scholastic judging HQ for the day.
Once the winners were selected, the teachers shared the news with their students. The grand finale happened on Sunday, January 28, 2024 when more than 500 people gathered on the St. Stephen’s campus to celebrate the great work of these talented students at an awards show and reception.
SSES Fine Arts Chair Liz Moon says the digital age has had a significant and positive impact on the competition. Participation has more than tripled, thanks to students being able to submit digital images of their work. In previous years schools could only select 10 pieces of artwork to physically deliver to campus for in-person judging. Now, students and teachers only hand-deliver the Gold Key Award pieces, so that they can be displayed for the awards show and reception, and then remain in the gallery for a couple of weeks.
Once other schools retrieve their artwork, you can still stop by the Scanlan Gallery and enjoy the award-winning work of our St. Stephen’s students for a little longer. It will be on display through March.
Thank you to the employees, parent volunteers and donors who made this year’s Scholastic Art & Writing Awards a success.