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Holladay Journal

Granite School District Art Olympics showcases students’ artistic talents

May 08, 2023 10:23AM ● By Darrell Kirby

Hunter High School student Emma Murdock puts the finishing touches on one of her entries at Granite School District’s 2023 Art Olympics competition featuring the top art students in the District’s eight high schools. (Darrell Kirby/City Journals)

Her hands and clothing covered in clay, Emma Murdock meticulously smoothed her vase as she turned it on a ceramics sculpting wheel. 

“This would be an altered piece,” the Hunter High School senior explained. “I threw the base and then I just kind of mapped out where I was going to do the lines, used my fingers and kind of added my own twist to it.” For the artistically uninitiated, “throwing” means to manually shape a ceramic or pottery sculpture while it rotates on the aforementioned wheel. 

That attention to detail was necessary if Emma was to be in the running for an award at the 2023 Granite School District Art Olympics at Hunter High in West Valley City. The annual competition in March featured the top 10 art students from each of the district’s eight high schools. Entries were judged in nine categories from black-and-white drawings to watercolors to hand-built ceramics. 

Emma participated in last year’s Art Olympics, but she felt more prepared this time around. Still, it comes down to inherent talent. “A lot of the time, I just do it by heart. I have a concept I want to do and kind of use intuition from there.” 

Students had a mere four hours to create their art pieces from start to finish. They were then judged by a panel of four professionals who work in the arts. “It’s really incredible what these kids are working on in such a short time,” said Noemi Veronica Hernandez-Balcazar, Granite School District arts coordinator. Most of the competitors were seniors and juniors, but a few were good enough to enter as underclassmen. 

Rock Hampton recalled participating in what is now the Art Olympics when he was a student at Cottonwood High School in 2006. Now an art teacher at Hunter High School, he helped Hernandez-Balcazar organize the 2023 version. “This is such a fun event. Our goal is to get bigger and get more of the community to come and see,” Hampton said. “We really do have incredible artists at Granite.” 

One of them is Wesley Johnson. He was outlining with pencil a picture of his mother, Rebecca, who stood a few feet away, arms slightly outstretched, eyes closed, in a meditational stance. “She’s really into yoga. This is one of the easiest poses for her to hold for a long time,” said the senior at Granger High School. 

“I was originally going to do a pose based on a Nirvana (album) cover, but plans change,” he  added. “I just kind of roll with it.” With 25 minutes left, Wesley hoped to “bring in some pretty fun colors” to his artwork of his mom. 

When time was up, the panel of four art professionals judged the entries, picking the top three in each category. It was their first time judging the Art Olympics. 

“Originality is a big part of what we’re looking for,” said Joe Van Leeuwen, a retired longtime art teacher at Cyprus High School. 

“There’s also emotion with that and skill level. There’s a lot of things coming into play as we discuss it,” said fellow judge Abe Kimball, a lithographer and adjunct visual arts instructor at Snow College in Ephraim. 

“All it takes is a look at the news these days and you’d think the world’s going to crap,” said judge Frank McEntyre, a local sculptor. “These kids are working, being creative, and trying to do good things in the world.” 

With an art background in 3D and ceramics, judge Amber Egbert teaches part time at BYU and Utah Valley University. “It’s been really fun to interact with the students and see their creativity and ideas take shape.”

Seeing the work of other student artists inspires Emma to step her game up. “I think the competitiveness is really exciting because you don’t really get that a lot (in a daily classroom setting),” she said. 

She hopes to pursue art in college. “We’ll see what happens. I would love to continue to do ceramics, even if I don’t major in it.”  λ