Apr 01

Congratulations to Ellie Braun for her Gold Medal Portfolio

Henrico student earns same national art award as Warhol

Henrico student earns same national art award as Warhol

P. Kevin Morley/Times-Dispatch

Ellie Braun, a senior at Henrico High School Center for the Arts, poses with some of the artwork from her portfolio “Closet Queens” which won a gold medal, and $10,000 scholarship, in the national Scholastic Art & Writing Awards competition.

Posted: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 12:04 am, Tue Apr 1, 2014.

BY LAURA KEBEDE Richmond Times-Dispatch

A Henrico High School Center for the Arts senior’s receipt of a prestigious national art award started with dressing up her little sister for an art class assignment.

The assignment led Ellie Braun, 17, on a yearlong artistic project to examine femininity and gender identity among her peers. Her originality and personal vision garnered a spot among eight young artists nationwide out of a pool of 255,000 submissions in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

Braun received a gold medal for her portfolio “Closet Queens” and a $10,000 scholarship, the highest honor in the national competition. Twenty-eight seventh- through 12th-grade students in the Richmond region earned 33 medals for their artwork. Thet attend public and private schools.

Former recipients of the award include Andy Warhol (1945), Robert Redford (1954) and Robert Indiana (1946), the creator of the iconic stacked letters of the word “love” with a leaning “O.”

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards started in 1923 to recognize artistic talent on par with athletic awards, said Virginia McEnerney, the executive director of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, which administers the competition.

“At the very heart of it is this personal validation … but there’s also this ripple effect of support,” she said, adding once students receive the award, universities pay attention and parents are more inclined to support their artistic endeavors. “It’s just as true and just as necessary as it was 90 years ago.”

Braun’s second work in her eight-piece portfolio of photo shoots rendered in Prismacolor pencil was of fellow Henrico senior Dylan Reissner, who won a silver medal for his portfolio “Gender Studies.” In it Reissner, 18, is dressed in a curly bright pink and purple wig, his hand riddled with Ring Pops and holding a cupcake.

Her challenge to her viewers is to “not judge people on their looks, especially when it comes to gender.”

The artwork will be displayed for two years in either a traveling exhibit or Scholastic’s rotating exhibit at the U.S. Department of Education building in Washington D.C.

“I’m still kind of in shock,” Braun said. “I’m glad people will get to see my work. I really hope they get something out of it.”

Braun also has created her own mark in a family of artists. Her maternal grandfather, Douglas James, was a dealer in 19 th- and 20 th-century art and her maternal grandmother, Jackie James, is a furniture painter.

Her mother, Merle James, an art teacher at Echo Lake Elementary School who has taught in the county for 23 years, said Braun “is a quiet little visionary” who has blossomed since entering the Center for the Arts specialty school at Henrico High School.

“Those teachers, it’s like a family,” she said of Genevieve Dowdy and Mary Scurlock. The students “nurture each other. They support each other; they highly support each other.”

For further study, Braun is vacillating between Pratt Institute, San Francisco Art Institute, Virginia Commonwealth University, New York University and Parsons The New School for Design, all of which have accepted her and the latter of which will host part of her works’ two-year display tour.

Braun isn’t sure what kind of art she wants to specialize in, she said, mostly because she hasn’t experienced enough disciplines to choose from.

“She’s matured in her personal voice in her work. It’s become more complex,” said art teacher Gowdy. “She is one of the kids who eats, sleeps and breathes this.”