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Prized art gets ArtPrize treatment

Show modeled on the Grand Rapids event returns after hiatus

Sparta — And the winner of the Sparta Middle School Art Prize contest is … a wizard.

Actually, it’s eighth-grader Carter Degraff’s “Wizard Carter,” a photograph of himself with a triangle of light, which he created by making quick, circular movements. 

“It’s shutter control with light,” explained Carter, who started to learn photography this school year.

The middle school show, modeled after the Grand Rapids event — though Sparta spells it as two words — was started three years ago by teacher Julie Aitken, who has taught art in Sparta since 2001. This was the second event, which was paused in 2020 due to pandemic school closures.

“I decided to try an Art Prize as a way to celebrate students’ achievement, to empower them, to show them that they can show what they accomplished throughout the semester and to really pick a piece that they were proud of,” Aitken said.

Aitken noted that voting was done anonymously. “The idea was that people would choose based on what they really liked rather than the person that did it.”

The art was viewable online, and students cast their votes in four categories: sixth grade, seventh and eighth grade, painting, and photography. The top two in each category made up the top eight, and those were voted on to determine the grand prize winner. Aside from bragging rights, winners received art supplies.

‘I decided to try an Art Prize as a way to celebrate students’ achievement, to empower them, to show them that they can show what they accomplished throughout the semester and to really pick a piece that they were proud of.’

— art teacher Julie Aitken

Carter won the photography division and the grand prize.

Eighth-grader Brooke Langschied won the seventh- and eighth-grade division with her piece, titled “Lost Loved Ones.”

“I used watercolor and oil pastels,” said Brooke, who created a nature scene with a cardinal. She added that she wants to take art classes in high school next year.

Though it was a competition, showcasing student work was the main objective. 

“I liked it. I liked the idea of it,” said seventh-grader Avayah Holmes, who submitted her piece, “The Watering Hole,” a photograph with a toy dinosaur. Avayah added that she is thinking about continuing in photography.

“We teachers know they do amazing stuff every day,” Aitken said. “They don’t always like to showcase. It’s kind of part of the age.”

She said she hoped to generate more interest in the visual arts through the contest, which is planned for each fall semester. 

Read more from Sparta:
Making mathematicians
Welding sparks her life

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Jane Lally
Jane Lally
Jane Lally is a reporter covering Sparta. Recently retired after working in state government and other areas, she found her way back to the journalism field again. She graduated from Central Michigan University and spent most of her career in writing, editing, graphic design/print production and broadcast closed captioning. She has written for The Grand Rapids Press, The Morning Sun in Mount Pleasant/Alma, MacDonald Publications in Ithaca, Leader Publications in Niles and The Herald-Palladium in St. Joseph. She strongly believes in the importance of public schools as they bring communities together and make them stronger. She is happy to be able to tell the stories of Sparta schools.

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