Young artists have their own way of competing in the rodeo
It’s not a common association — livestock, rodeo and art — unless you live in Texas and have been part of the more-than-50-year-old tradition of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Student Art Contest.
Since 1965, when the contest first began, 9.8 million entries from students in high schools, junior high and elementary schools across the Houston area have gone before judges each March, vying for top prizes of scholarships, educational opportunities, cash from an auction and a place in the annual exhibit staged at the rodeo stadium.
This year, 72 finalists were chosen from more than 200,000 entries over multiple rounds of judging at the school district level and by rodeo-associated judges, including several pieces by young artists from Galveston County’s Clear Creek Independent School District.
The 2020 Grand Champion entry came from Anthony Vega of the Pasadena Independent School District, for his colored-pencil drawing “Morning Pep Talk.”
Last year’s winner, also from Pasadena, sold for $240,000. Students can keep up to about $35,000 of that sale price, and the rest is funneled back into the program to support future scholarships and prizes.
At the individual school level, the art contest means months of honing skills and creating Western-themed drawings, paintings, multi-media pieces and sculptures that are polished and, in many cases, look as though they were made by professionals.
“It’s a long tradition and a spectacular opportunity for students to win scholarships both monetary and education-wise,” said Joan Finn, a La Marque High School art teacher for the past 25 years.
La Marque didn’t compete in the rodeo art show until after its schools were annexed by the Texas City Independent School District in 2017, but has found the contest is a good match for the community with its rich Western history, including a legacy of black cowboys among its founding families.
Finn’s student, 11th grader Rylie McCarty, won a special merit award from the district for her still life composition, a drawing of two steer skulls backed by a classic Western bandana.
“This is my second year,” McCarty said. “I almost screamed when I heard I’d gotten an award.”
Finn, who worked much of her life as a professional artist before settling in La Marque, had nothing but praise for the rodeo’s art contest organization.
“The rodeo committee is the most incredible functioning committee I’ve ever seen,” Finn said. “They are kind and considerate and go out of their way to talk to teachers and their kids regarding their work. It’s all about the kids.”
Michelle Jiang, a 10th grader at Dickinson High School, received a district best of show prize for her drawing, “Flowers for Mama,” an uncannily realistic colored pencil drawing of a young cowboy, a little boy in hat and boots, hunched over picking wildflowers in a field.
Jiang and a classmate took photographs of the classmate’s little brother and both created drawings from the photos, said Lydia Thompson, Jiang’s art teacher.
“Jiang’s brother took best of show last year,” Thompson said. “She and he are equally talented.”
Thompson and Finn both worked extensively with their students, teaching them to use high-quality professional-grade Prismacolor pencils to create photo-realistic drawings by layering and blending colors.
Karen Fabela Gutierrez, a senior at Texas City High School, chose charcoal pencils as the medium for her best of show award-winning drawing, “Broken,” depicting a worn-out cowboy, head down, resting on a rough wooden bench.
“I worked about a month on it,” Gutierrez said. “I wanted to do a person instead of an animal, but I didn’t have to do the face.”
Gutierrez worked off a photograph taken by her teacher, Desiree Haddock, making a grid and filling in each section meticulously to perfectly reproduce the image.
Gutierrez has been competing in the rodeo art show since eighth grade and won awards in some previous attempts, but this was her first best of show award, she said.
“It meant a lot. I was really proud of myself,” she said. “I felt like I had found a meaning. I’m going to keep studying art.”