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MECC students explore visual, written arts in competition

Mike Still • May 6, 2019 at 2:30 PM

BIG STONE GAP — Artistic expression is alive and well at Mountain Empire Community College, as students from a variety of academic backgrounds showed their talents at the college’s Exploration Arts Competition this spring.

The competition allowed students to exhibit paintings, drawings, color and black-and-white photography, poetry, short stories and creative nonfiction writing. 

Dryden resident Anthony Swindall, who will transfer to UVa-Wise in the fall to study psychology, received prizes for a short story and poetry.

“I think it encourages art,” Swindall said of the Exploration Arts event and faculty encouragement of the program. He said the competition has helped him exhibit his work in poetry and in speculative fiction, an outgrowth of his earlier interest in science fiction.

“With writing, you get to tell about people’s lives, even fictional, through their character,” Swindall said. “You get to convey insights about history by writing about people.”

“It’s one of the more accepting programs,” said Cody Cox, who also heads to UVa-Wise in August. Cox, who cites Kurt Vonnegut and George Orwell among his influences, said his prose often falls into the “magical realism” genre.

Criminal justice major Alexis Barker had been interested in art since childhood. She said she had been developing an acrylic pour painting technique which earned her a first-place award.

“It takes time, but you get details that make people think you did it by brush,” Barker said. Part of the detail in her painting comes from careful application of a blowtorch to add bubbling and texture.

Health sciences major Chelsea Stapleton from Lee County admits that watching Bob Ross on television was a big influence on her oil painting style. That influence earned her a third place with a mountainscape at sunset.

Wise resident and environmental science and forestry major Celeste Aguinaga said she has enjoyed drawing since childhood and works in ink, pencil and colored pencils. A detailed color portrait of a geisha and a black-and-white sketch of a woman in traditional Dia de Muertos makeup and costume earned her first- and third-place honors.

“For a while I thought about it,” Aguinaga said when asked if she thought about a professional art career. “Everyone does something, though, and it’s hard to get your work out there. I would like to keep doing it, though.”

Chris Brummett from Pennington Gap also works at MECC, and he entered the Exploration Arts contest after he saw a flyer posted at the college.

“I went home, drew something and just entered,” Brummett said. “I’ve been drawing since I was little.”

Kevin Cooper, a Dryden resident who earned first place in color and first and third in black-and-white photos, found his inspiration for nature photography from living on the edge of a wooded area.

“It’s just a hobby, a good chance to shoot people, animals and plants,” said Cooper.

Retired MECC photography instructor Bill Harris, who helped judge entries with competition coordinator and English instructor Brandi Martinez, said he enjoyed the chance to see others’ work.

“The art was very good and I enjoyed judging the photos,” Harris said. “Judging is like when I was teaching because I get to see what other people are doing. I would encourage others to enter their work.”

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