MARCH 17, 2016, VANCOUVER, WA – Educational Service District 112 filled its halls with student artists, families, teachers, and art lovers for the 43rd Annual Regional High School Art Show on Tuesday evening. The gallery opening and awards ceremony was expected to draw roughly 80 attendees; instead, Art Show Coordinators Melissa Burt and Jodi Thomas estimate that there were over 200 people there to celebrate student art, making it the largest show since the event began in the 1970s.

Burt, new to the Art Show this year, was amazed by the quality and variety of the artwork and enjoyed hearing comments from employees and visitors to the ESD when the show went up. “Every time I was out in the hall, hanging tags or ribbons, I would overhear someone remark to a colleague, ‘This is my favorite time of year. Isn’t this art amazing?’” She laughs, recalling, “One time I overheard a young guy telling his friend how he was in the Art Show a few years back and that his piece got second at State. ‘My teapot was, like, this tall!’ he was proudly showing his friend with his arms.”

The students exhibiting artwork have reason to be proud. The Southwest Washington region is known for the exemplary quality of work and the large participation from the schools. This year featured 267 pieces—a record number—from both large, Clark and Cowlitz county districts and small, rural districts in the gorge and out toward the coast.

One of those small, rural districts, Wahkiakum, was proud to be represented by several students, including Connor Emlen-Petterson. Emlen-Petterson’s quirky, black and white painting received the highest score given by the judges, qualifying it to move on to the state level. It also received the attention of the Oregon College of Art and Craft, which awarded him a $20,000 scholarship to the college based on the quality of his work.

Greg Schlanger of the Central Washington University Art Department visits each of the nine regional shows in the state and presents scholarships to four students in each region. During the awards ceremony on Tuesday he announced, “This show is incredible. It was so hard to choose. First I narrowed it down to 15 pieces, then ten, then six. And I couldn’t narrow it down any further, so I just decided to give six scholarships to the region this year.”

The gallery opening and reception featured the student artwork on display, along with refreshments, college information, and the music of Camas High School student a capella group, “The 6 of Us.” The award ceremony followed, opening with inspirational words from Anne Banks, OSPI Program Supervisor of the Arts and a presentation from Christine Clark, Professor and head of the Metals Department at the Oregon College of Art and Craft.

Clark spoke to students about installation, playfulness, passion, and continual improvement and life-long learning. She also had a powerful message for the parents in the audience: “I started my first art classes when I was in high school, and my parents were completely supportive all the way. I got both of my degrees in art, and I’ve been an artist forever, and, yeah, I don’t make that much money, but I love my life. I love what I do. Every day I do something that I love. And don’t you want that for your kids?”

After the Art Show awards were presented, scholarships were given from both Central Washington University and the Oregon College of Art and Craft, located in Portland. Nick Bakh, a senior at Heritage High School in Vancouver was one of the recipients of an OCAC $20,000 scholarship. He was particularly thrilled, as he’d told his teacher that he’d been dreaming of going to college there.

Art Show Coordinator, Jodi Thomas recalls the email she received back from his teacher, Valerie Blessley, after the scholarships were announced. It read, “Nick is in my class right this minute…He said, ‘I’m freaking out right now!’” Thomas says reading that email was her favorite moment from the Art Show. “It made all the hard work 100% worth it.”

Artwork will remain on display at the ESD Main Office in Vancouver until March 31 when 19 Regional Award winners will move on to the statewide art show in Olympia. To view a gallery of the award-winners, click here.