Local artists excited for ARTPRIZE

MECOSTA COUNTY — Local artists from the area are looking forward to showing off their skills and talents during this year's ArtPrize competition.

ArtPrize takes place from Wednesday, Sept. 23, through Sunday, Oct. 11, at dozens of indoor and outdoor venues throughout Grand Rapids. The event features artists from all over the world, showcasing a wide variety of art, writing and music, and each year attracts thousands of spectators. Artists compete to win thousands of dollars in prizes.

This year, attendees will be able to view the work of at least three area artists who are placing their time, skills and talent on display.

Amber Jackson, a Big Rapids resident and Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center oncology nurse, is one of the local artists competing in ArtPrize. This is her second year participating in the competition with a photo series.

"I love taking the pictures," Jackson said. "I can tie work in with something outside of work and it allows me to share my creativity with my patients."

This year, her series is called "Patients (Patience)" and features four black and white photographs of the hands of patients she has come across in the cancer center. Although each signed a release form to allow her the opportunity, they were unaware when she took each picture so they were in as natural a state as possible.

The focus on hands came from a particular patient who would fidget with his IV tube when he was relaxed. From that moment, Jackson became aware of other similar habits, or "tells," other patients had while receiving cancer treatment.

"I was really catching them at their most vulnerable and I think that's what's really neat, because you can get emotions from them without knowing their story or seeing their faces," Jackson added. "People can create their own story."

She also is careful not to show patient faces or provide other details of the individual in the shot — first because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — but also because Jackson wants viewers to think of themselves or loved ones when gazing at the piece.

Jackson's photos will be printed on a banner, which will hang on the side of the Treadstone Funding building, located at 25 Commerce Ave. in downtown Grand Rapids.

"I'm excited and I think they turned out well," she said. "I'm looking forward to interacting with more people this year and I'm excited to be downtown."

Jackson feels a strong sense of pride in her entry.

"I lost three of the four patients in the photos I kept for this project," she added. "I think looking at the photos you will feel a tangible emotion. It's the connection to a piece that makes me take pictures of something most people wouldn't normally find photographic."

Remus resident Dan Lee is well-versed in all things art. For 30 years he taught art in the Chippewa Hills School District and mostly creates intricate, detailed drawings filled with plants and animals. This year he is entering ArtPrize for the first time with a wooden sculpture of a fish he created out of a laminated beam made of different layers of wood. The project took him about 50 hours to complete and includes decorative rock formations carved from walnut.

"I'm proud of this piece," Lee said. "It's one of the nicest pieces I've made."

Once he began sanding and grinding the piece, he noticed the different colors underneath the surface.

"I was so impressed with the design I saw in the beam that I didn't make the piece a specific fish," Lee said. "I wanted to make it like a fish was swimming by. You don't see the details, just the motion."

Fishing has been a favorite pastime for Lee.

"I love fishing and I still do it, but not as much as I used to," he added. "I used to fly fish and I taught how to tie flies."

Lee had not imagined entering ArtPrize until his former boss, who gave him the laminated beam, encouraged him to do so.

"I wouldn't have had the courage to enter," Lee chuckled. "I'm pretty shy and not very good at promoting myself."

Lee's sculpture, "Big Fish," will be on display at Leo's Restaurant, located at 60 Ottawa Ave NW.

"I don't know what to expect, but I want people to enjoy it," he said about the artwork. "I'm not opposed to getting some commissioned pieces from the experience. I don't expect to win anything, but a side prize would be nice."

At 88 years old, Chippewa Lake resident Alicia Patch Oldham is likely one of the oldest ArtPrize participants. It's her fifth year entering the competition, formerly submitting sketches, drawings, photographs and written works. This year, she will be reading a poem entitled "Mother Theresa — the Little Nun," which was inspired by the nun's life of service.

"I've always loved her," Patch Oldham said of Mother Theresa. "I saw her on the news, had pictures of her and read her book. I thought, 'Someday she's going to be a saint.'"

The reading will take place at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26, and at noon on Sunday, Sept. 27, at the First United Methodist Church, located at 227 E. Fulton St. The poem also will be on display for reading at the venue.

Poetry is a natural medium for Patch Oldham, who been writing poetry since she was a girl.

"When I was little, my thoughts all went to rhyme," she said with a chuckle.

Patch Oldham said she looks to her Catholic faith and the Holy Spirit for guidance in her writing.

Her family members, including daughters Mary and Lisa Oldham, also have a love for all things artistic, and encourage their mother to continue writing and participating in ArtPrize.

"I think it's really good for her," Lisa said. "She gave up her dream of being an artist to care for nine children so this is a way to give back to her. I also think art is good for her as far as healing and it's good for her mind. We'll encourage her to keep entering ArtPrize as long as possible."

For more information about ArtPrize, visit artprize.org.