As is tradition for the Missouri State Fair, the Missouri Top 50 kicked off the annual event Wednesday evening, honoring the best artists in the Show-Me State.
Fine Arts Superintendent Alan Weaver said 89 artists entered the Top 50 show this year, with many entering two works. “If it’s not up here, the artists can enter in the open professional division without another fee,” Weaver explained. “It’s good because a lot of good work that’s not up here winds up downstairs (in the Fine Arts Building in the open division displays).”
The entries were narrowed down to 50 by Juror Carol Carter, a watercolor artist from St. Louis, who then chose the winning pieces within the Top 50. The result was a varied and beautiful collection of pieces, ranging in size, color, style and technique. Weaver said Carter took her time when deciding which pieces would receive an award.
“I was surprised and overwhelmed at the amount of choices that came to me to review to pick 50 works for this exhibition. It was really hard,” she said. “There’s a lot of gorgeous imagery and execution, a lot of thoughtfulness. There’s a lot of genuine, heartfelt application of your craft and that should be thoroughly appreciated and observed in each work of art you see.”
Grant Kniffen, of Dardenne Prairie, has entered the Top 50 four times before, and 2016 marked his second year to see a ribbon hanging next to his piece. This year he won was a Second Premium recipient for his acrylic painting, “Among the Trees.” According to the artist’s statement accompanying the piece, it “portrays two deer amid the trees and shadows of the woods. While the subject matter is important, so are the abstract concerns that make up composition.”
A retired art teacher from Parkway North High School, Kniffen said he typically creates western or music scenes, but applies his style to different American subject matters.
“It was a concept I had to use deer. I began experimenting with multiple perspectives,” he explained. “If you look, there are a lot of different views that in reality couldn’t happen. You could say it’s cubist in style, influence by it. I try to take subject matters and compose them differently.”
He added that he struggled with the patterns painted in between the deer, repainting them five or six times.
“I came up with an abstract to fill the space and it seems to work,” he said. “Sometimes with art you have to let it sit and vegetate for a little while and that’s what happened here.”
Ted Denton, of Marshall, has also entered the Top 50 before and was included again with his piece, “EFC #41.” He said he’s always glad to be included, as “there is great competition here.”
He said his award-winning, non-representational piece is made from Masonite and wood pieces.
“Several pieces are leftover from other projects and I wanted to incorporate them into a smaller piece,” he said. My work is like improv. I played with it for two hours, manipulating the pieces until I found something I was happy with. Then I primed it white, and then the tricky part was deciding which colors.”
Weaver has continued to grow the Top 50 show during his tenure as superintendent, with 89 artists entering this year compared to 69 in 2015 and 61 in 2014.
“I’m trying to build it up, I’m talking to universities,” he explained. “The rules used to say the work could not be done under instruction, which I’m not really sure what that means, I think it meant college artists; that’s exactly who I want. The only requirement is you must be 18 and live in Missouri.”
Weaver taught a ceramics class this summer at the University of Central Missouri and encouraged his students to enter. His three advanced students took his advice and it paid off — all three were included in the Top 50.
Other award winners included Gary Cadwallader’s acrylic “Refuge,” Maria Ogendengbe’s photograph “Painting Contest: MO Real,” and Shawn Hunsaker’s oil painting, “Adelynn.” Other second premium recipients included Maggie Wheelock’s acrylic and ultra-fine glitter on board, “Glittering Grackle,” Sylvia Mooney’s watercolor “Daffodils,” and Steve Gorman’s “Sleep” sculpture.
Cadwallader also received the State Fair Community College Purchase Award, which is chosen by Daum Museum of Contemporary Art Director/Curator Tom Piche and SFCC President Dr. Joanna Anderson. His piece has been purchased by the college and will be displayed on one of its campuses. Piche said Anderson was “so taken” with the piece she has requested it start its rotation in her office. Cadwallader will be an artist-in-residence in the Fine Arts Building during several days of the Fair.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.