Three high school art students honored with elite awards

Three high school art students honored with elite awards

The art gallery at Kean University was filled with exhibits from throughout New Jersey.

An estimated total of 80 pieces of art were on display when the Arts Administrators of New Jersey (AANJ) sponsored its 36th Annual Emerging Artists Art Show that was staged at the James Howe Gallery on Kean’s campus in Union on Sunday, January 28.

But there were three paintings from Bridgewater-Raritan High School students that stood out in this crowded field of artworks that was assembled in the college’s Vaughn-Eames Building.

Jennifer Niu’s work of “The Year Off” and Sharanya Ram’s painting of “Self Portrait In The Heat” each were honored with the prestigious Merit Award and Amelia Ludwig’s painting of “Loving Hands” received the Honorable Mention citation. 

Those three awards consisted of half of the honors that were bestowed that day to the high school students by the AANJ.

“Out of more than 80 pieces, half went to our students,’’ Joanna Wezyk, Bridgewater-Raritan High School’s Visual Arts Teacher, proclaimed about how Bridgewater-Raritan dominated the awards presentation when a total of six high school students were recognized.

The honorees were presented with medals and certificates and monetary awards—Jennifer and Sharanya each received $50 and Amelia was the beneficiary of $25.

Ms. Wezyk was proud of her three students—each a senior— who are members of her AP Art and Design class at Bridgewater-Raritan High School. 

“This is my first year teaching AP Art and Design at Bridgewater-Raritan. Thus even more joy to see my students being recognized  on that level,’’ Ms. Wezyk said. “All three paintings come from students and their investigation of art, the materials, processes and ideas. In addition, their artwork is part of a coherent body of work based on a sustained investigation and a unique personal vision.’’

Yes, the summary provided by Ms. Wezyk, who is a Doctor of Fine Arts, was crystal clear.

“Jennifer explained that her painting, ”The Year Off,’’ illustrated  ‘’friends getting ready to celebrate the Lunar New Year.’’

“I took a picture and used that image to paint a piece that identifies and celebrates my culture while finding beauty and joy,’’ Jennifer revealed about the painting that illustrated five girls.

Sharanya spoke about she snapped a photo of herself in the sun and then painted her “Self Portrait In The Heat.’’

“I emphasized colors to do my acrylic painting,’’ she said about a background of blue, orange and yellow.

Amelia’s “Loving Hands.’’ also featured a bright color that can catch the attention of any art lover.

“I have emotions about the color red and how it relates to my life.” she said about the painting of a bouquet of flowers that goes much deeper. 

A closer look at her painting and you can see hands emerging from the flowers.

“I am giving a bouquet of flowers as a gift plus I am also giving a piece of myself with hands in the roses,’’ Amelia shared.

The passionate Ms. Wezyk, who has been a drawing and painting professor at Kean University for the past 20 years, has taught at Bridgewater-Raritan for 12 years. She began teaching  AP Art and Design when Elizabeth Stutzman retired after 20 years this past June.

“I was very fortunate to inherit the students from the amazing Ms. Stutzman,’’ she said. “I feel very honored and privileged to do my job here working with so many talented students. I hope that the AANJ awards gave our students a great start to be confident and forever curious about art making.’’

That start can continue with the three students taking the next step.

 They are all eligible due to their awards at Kean University to submit a portfolio to be considered for the  New Jersey Governor's Visual Art Achievement Award. The winner will then receive the elite New Jersey Governor's Award in the spring—and attempt to keep that prize in the Bridgewater-Raritan family.

Yes, this past June, two Bridgewater-Raritan High School Class of 2023 students were recipients of the distinguished 43rd Annual New Jersey Governor’s Awards in Arts Education.

Crystal Zhang, who had her painting awarded in the AANJ Emerging Artists Art Show in January of 2023 at Kean University, received the Governor’s  Award for Visual Art.

The other Bridgewater-Raritan winner last June was Alexander Lu, who was honored for All-State Orchestra.

“The Governor’s Award is perhaps the highest award we have to recognize student achievement in the arts in New Jersey,’’ Ms. Stutzman said in June of 2023. She also added that she had recalled just one winner prior to Crystal’s honor during her 20-year career at Bridgewater-Raritan.

There may be more in 2024.