Student works showcased at annual JHU Montgomery County Campus art exhibit

Credit: Carlo Pizarro

Lei Yan didn't start working on her painting entry for the art competition until a couple of weeks ago. She had the canvas back in October and had a few ideas, but she really started working on it in January.

Image caption: Lei Yan's "Cuban Ladies" (top) won first prize among paintings

Image credit: Carlo Pizarro

Lei nixed her earlier concepts, including the idea of painting an astronaut with a fish bowl as a helmet (she concedes she's not very good at painting fish). She found her inspiration in the news about President Obama's decision to modernize relations with Cuba. Lei painted an image of two elderly Cuban ladies smoking cigars.

"Old ladies smoking cigars is a pretty funny thing to see," Lei said. "Even if people think you are too old for something, you're not."

Lei's painting garnered first-place honors in the annual Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus art show. Now in its ninth year, the show features the work of young artists and photographers. This year, students from 20 of the county's public high schools submitted 174 mixed-media art pieces and 221 photographs. Jurors selected 43 canvases and 33 photographs to be showcased in the exhibit, and nine students won prizes for their original works.

An opening reception was held on campus Jan. Thursday. Hundreds of parents, students, and community residents gathered to view the art and hear the winners announced. The exhibit will be on display through March 31 in the lobby of the campus's 9605 Building. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

The competing artists were selected by their high school art teachers. Materials and prizes for the contest were sponsored in part by the Rockville location of Plaza Arts, an art material and picture framing company.

This year's theme was "Out of the Ordinary." Elderly ladies smoking cigars fit the bill.

"A lot of my work gives off a more relaxed feeling," said Lei, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School. "I am extremely happy to see it on this wall." Lei is an Advanced Placement art student, with a concentration in diversity around the world.

The annual art exhibit is one of the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus programs for students in middle school and high school, designed to get students excited about STEAM education at an early age. The A in STEAM is for "art," an important component of a well-rounded student's education. (STEAM is an acronym for Science Technology Engineering-Art Mathematics.)

Three community artists judged the entries: Bhaval Shah Bell, Sherill Anne Gross, and Carlo Pizarro.

Below is a list of winners and comments about their works from the judges:


  • First place—Cuban Ladies by Lei Yan, Richard Montgomery High School: Loved the quirkiness of this painting—the startling unexpectedness of seeing two older ladies smoking cigars. The portraits are technically strong and detailed, and several aspects of the painting have been carefully thought-through and conveyed, including the smoke rising up from the cigars, the reflection on the lenses in their glasses and the fun, bright flowers in their headdresses. The artist has also used color with maturity—the darker background sets off the ladies perfectly; the flowers add a nice balance of brightness.

  • Second place—Jaganmata by Amanuel Gebremariam, Albert Einstein High School: The warm, smiling face of the lady in this painting was the first thing that caught my eye. She had a very welcoming quality—the expression on her face made me want to smile. Juxtaposing the theme "Out of the Ordinary" on the painting made it all the more relevant. It fits the theme perfectly. For a Vogue cover, seeing an older, ethnically diverse face is completely unexpected—such a refreshing change from the typical bland models that are so often portrayed.

  • Third place—Awakenings by Ken Ha, Vis Arts Center: I was drawn to this painting because of the bold use of color and strong visual graphic lines. It was an unusual piece and an interesting way to capture the undersea world. I was also compelled by the "eyes" on the jellyfish. I am not sure what they are, but they made me want to know more about what they represented.

  • Honorable mention: Over the County Emotions by Abby Staub, Sherwood High School; Hidden Paradise by Rachel Goldberg, Sherwood High School; Untitled by Thasanee Phongpanangam; Watkins Mill High School


  • First place—Masked by Dahlia Ehrenberg, Northwood High School: I was drawn to this image by the composition and tone of the photo. I also particularly liked her connection with the subject, which brought out something strong yet vulnerable in the model.

  • Second place—Post-Existence by Maddy Walker, Northwest High School: I really liked the composition of this image and the dreamy feel of the photo. There's a bit of a trapped-under-glass feeling that is interesting.

  • Third place—Love is Blind by Adele Spinder, Poolesville High School: I liked that the photographer tried something different conceptually and stepped outside the standard boundaries of portraiture.