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Kaya Abramson had known for a few days that she was one of the top winners at the inaugural Maryland High School Juried Art Exhibition at University of Maryland University College, but she didn’t know she’d won the first prize until the name of the second prize winner was announced.

“It’s very exciting getting it [my work] out to a broader audience because usually, it’s only up at my school so just my classmates see it. But now, the whole state,” she said standing in front of her oil painting “Safe Space” installed in the UMUC Arts Program Gallery.

Kaya Abramson with her winning painting, "Safe Space"

As the winner of the President’s Award, the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology senior won $1,000 for herself, $4,000 for her school’s art program and a trophy; a poster of her painting is to be distributed to schools statewide.

Abramson, who hopes to go to art school next year, said that she used a mirror and photographs to create her 2018 painting—a self-portrait. “Me in my cluttered room, which I find really comforting. I always kind-of retreat to my room.”

She said she painted the work in her room, which is also where she hangs out with her friends. “It’s kind of like paying homage to my room,” Abramson said. “My room is like my safe space.”

"Prisoners of War" by Gabriel Windsor-Reedy

Gabriel Windsor-Reedy, of Howard High School, who won second place for “Prisoners of War” received $500 for himself and $2,000 for his school. And Zelda Littlejohn, of Albert Einstein High School, who took third place for “Common Cause” received $250 for herself and $750 for her school. Also, Windsor-Reedy took home a plaque and Littlejohn a certificate.

Honorable mentions went to Hailey Feller, of Quince Orchard High School, for “Through the Shadows” and Ben Hough, of Towson High School, for “I’m Board.”

The entries were judged by a panel of three experts: Joan Bevelaqua, an artist, UMUC professor, and member of the UMUC Art Advisory Board; Christopher Harrington, chair of the fine arts department at University of Maryland Eastern Shore; and Preston Sampson, an artist and alumnus of University of Maryland, College Park.

"Common Cause" by Zelda Littlejohn

The winners were among 55 students from across the state to show artwork in the exhibit, on view through April 28. The works on display, selected from 200 submissions,  spanned many different styles and media—from oil, acrylic, tempera, and watercolor paint to colored pencil, marker, pastel, sharpie, conté crayon, and ballpoint pen, to photography, fabric, ceramic, and other mixed media. A common refrain among attendees was that the quality of work was good enough to be professional.

“It is so important that we give this exposure to our young artists. They are so talented. And to understand that you can have a career in art,” said Rhonda Dallas, executive director of the Prince George’s County Arts and Humanities Council, who was in attendance. “Older generations were discouraged by their parents to go into the art field. But the art field can be not only personally satisfying, but it is a trajectory to a solid professional career.”

Dallas called attention to the exhibition signage, particularly the artwork labels which note that the works are on loan from the artists, referring to the students. “I love that. It’s already putting you in that mindset,” she said. “Of all the youth art exhibitions that I’ve seen, I’ve never seen that. It’s already putting them into that business acumen to say, ‘This has value.’”

Visitor viewing Littlejohn's "Common Cause"

In his remarks, Eric Key, director of the UMUC Arts program, noted that many high schools have athletic and musical competitions. “We wanted to do a visual arts competition throughout the state of Maryland,” he said. UMUC also wanted to support both the next generation of visual artists and arts educators and programs throughout the state, he said.

“We really wanted students to learn about the process of participating in a professional, juried art competition and all that it entails. More importantly, we wanted a project that represents pride within every school in Maryland,” said Key. “I think we’ve accomplished that with this exhibition.”

Also speaking at the event, UMUC President Javier Miyares called the quality of the students’ works “truly amazing.”

UMUC shows works of both emerging and established artists from Maryland and around the world to new and broader audiences, Miyares said. “In the Maryland High School Juried Art Exhibition, we are proud to highlight the talent and hard work of another group of deserving and talented students.”