Astrid Salinger is a junior at the School of Inquiry & Life Sciences at Asheville, aka SILSA. But you’d never be able to guess her youth based on her paintings alone.
Consider Enigmatic Berry. Employing a masterful style that toes the line between surrealism and High Renaissance classicism, Salinger depicts a forlorn flapper whose salt-and-pepper hair is sprouting fruit. With delicate fingers, the dame tugs at a blood-red berry, already grieving her imminent loss.
“She gives too much to others,” Salinger tells Asheville Made. “She’s picking berries from her hair, taking everything from herself.”
The teen’s precociousness hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2022, Enigmatic Berry took home a Gold Key—the highest honor—during the WNC Regional Scholastic Art Awards. “It was the first time someone had truly seen my art,” says Salinger. “Winning was a big deal for me.” Salinger credits her art teachers at SILSA and also private study with local Irish painter Elizabeth Porritt Carrington, who mentored the evolution of Salinger’s winning work. “I asked her to make a piece influenced by some of the contemporary painters and illustrators we were looking at together in the studio,” says Carrington. “What emerged was Enigmatic Berry, and [that was] the point in which I understood just how fun working with Astrid was going to be. So full of sadness though poised in beauty and fruitful hope, [the work] is a perfect example of how sophisticated her skills are … the magic of her gift.”
Hosted by Asheville Art Museum with support from the Asheville Area Section of the American Institute of Architects, the WNC Regional Scholastic Art Awards is an annual competition that invites students in grades seven to 12 to submit their work for review.
Each year, the program sees between 500 and 1,000 submissions from across the 20-county region, which is bound loosely by Andrews to the west and Morganton to the east. These creative pieces span a range of mediums—from cartoon to jewelry to photography—and are judged blindly by a trio of community members.
“For the judges, we try to select local artists or people who have a history of working with youth,” says Susan Hendley, school and teachers programs manager at the museum.
This year’s panel, Hendley notes, consisted of Kelly Hider, youth-education programs manager at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts; Lei Han, a museum board member and art professor at UNCA; and Alexandria Ravenel, co-founder of Noir Collective AVL.
Together, the three judged student submissions based on originality, skill, and “emergence of a personal voice or vision.” The winners were then announced during a virtual awards ceremony late last month.
Dozens of students walked away with Honorable Mentions and Silver Keys. However, only five were awarded the much-coveted Gold Key. These aspiring creatives will move on to compete in the national Scholastic Art Awards, a prestigious program now in its 100th year.
Anna Christensen, a senior at Robert L. Patton High School in Morganton, is one of the five teens headed to the country-wide competition in New York City. Her work, Cleanse and Release, is an emotionally charged piece of digital art that depicts a woman washing homophobic insults off her body. Christensen says she took inspiration from the negative response she received on social media after coming out.
“I felt like the opinions and disgust directed towards me had become a part of my identity—a layer of shame,” she says. “I let the creative process be a symbolic release of negativity. I washed it all away.”
Eliza Conard, a homeschooled freshman in Hendersonville, will also be moving forward. Her sculpture, King of the Lake, features intricately detailed and convincingly lifelike renditions of aquatic fauna. “When I was little, my family would always go to Lake Hartwell to look at the wildlife,” Conard explains. “I remember it being so much fun.”
Though Conard is only in the ninth grade, she sees the Scholastic Art Awards as a stepping stone — a way to refine her resume and secure a spot in a summer art program. “Then, when I graduate, I want to go to art school on a scholarship,” she says.
According to Kristina Shriver, an art teacher at Asheville High School, which houses SILSA, hopes like these aren’t at all far-fetched. In her 14 years of teaching, Shriver has watched several talented students go on to win national awards as well as scholarships. (Salinger, for instance, was offered a scholarship to attend a summer program at the Savannah College of Art and Design not long after taking home a Gold Key.)
“The most inspiring thing is the variety of creative fields these students pursue post-high school,” says Shriver. “Some former winners are now tattoo artists, professional photographers for fashion magazines, and even successful engineers and architects.”
Salinger isn’t exactly sure what she’ll become. She’s still a kid, after all. But seeing her work displayed at Asheville Art Museum—an honor bestowed upon all regional winners — made her more confident that art is the right path.
“Being featured in the museum was such a cool experience. I never thought that would happen for me,” says Salinger. “I know now that I definitely want to pursue art as a career.”
The 2023 Regional Scholastic Art Awards Exhibition runs through Monday, March 6, at Asheville Art Museum (2 South Pack Square, Asheville, ashevilleart.org).