Meet the winners of the News + Record’s first art contest

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Over the course of the past month, the News + Record conducted its very first art contest, which was open to artists everywhere between Aug. 3-24. The goal of the contest was to ask our readers to create a piece of art that represents the era of COVID-19 — and our readers delivered!

On Monday, we announced the winners of the contest on our social media accounts for each of the categories: Food, Heroes and Love. The idea for our art contest was inspired by a viral image of food from a newspaper contest held in China during COVID-19.

The News + Record received 27 entries from people of all ages across a number of cities, including Pittsboro, Siler City and Chapel Hill. The News + Record also received entries from places outside of the state, from Frederick, Maryland to places as far as Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Winners were judged on creativity and their ability to capture our contest themes. Judges included Siqi Zhang, the president of the North Carolina Chinese Scholars Sino-US Exchange Association (NCCSEA); Qing Yao Lin, executive team member of NCCSEA; Buck Ryan, director of the Citizen Kentucky Project on civic engagement; Bill Horner III, the newspaper’s editor and publisher; and myself, the News + Record’s digital media fellow.

Now, we present to you our first ever News + Record art contest winners, along with comments from the judges.

Grand Prize

NAME: Lani Chaves

City: Pittsboro

Description of art: “During the Pandemic, in the beginning when masks were hard to come by, people began sewing masks and giving them away. These masks were strung between two trees and offered for free, as they resembled Buddhist prayer flags. I was moved to paint ‘Free Masks Take One’ in 9x12 watercolors.”

Ryan described the winning piece as “a beautiful display of a signature image of the COVID-19 crisis — the mask — holding firm on a clothesline with the winds of change. The artist’s message behind the artwork — free masks for the taking — is equally beautiful and speaks to the generosity of the American heart.”

“I liked the art impression. It looks beautiful and expresses the theme well,” Lin said.

Chaves said she is grateful to be selected as one of the contest winners. Chaves has been painting in watercolors for about seven years, she said. She is also currently the co-president of the Chatham Artists Guild, which is one of the oldest in North Carolina. To learn more about the guild and its latest events, you can visit the organization’s website at

“Love” Category Winner

Name: ZiFu (Teddy) Tang

City: Chapel Hill

Description of art: In Tang’s own words: “One morning, Froggy the Frog got out of his well and planned a good plan. The plan was to meet his mom and give her a mug of wine, so she won’t be that afraid. So, he went to meet his friend Wood Pecky the Woodpecker and said, ‘Hey, Wood Pecky! Let’s meet my mom!’ Wood Pecky heard him and said, ‘Where is she?’ Froggy answered: ‘In a well, we need to go and see her. We need a mask, oh! We need to text her that we will come, and I’ll remind her to wear a mask. Hey Wood Pecky, I got a mask, do you need one?’ ‘No thank you, but I have a long beak — I don’t think it will be so comfortable and I will not even fit!’ ‘Okay, now let’s greet my mom and remember don’t get too close, even if the well is deep, alright?’ ‘Sure. Okay a long trip even if it’s barely ten yards long.’ Wood Pecky said, ‘I’m ready, can you hold the mug of wine for me?’ ‘Okay... we are finally here!!! What are you doing mom?’ Mom: ‘Nothing much.’ And so, Froggy handed his mom the mug and turned on the lamp. His mom has an iPhone 13 so she can see what was going on with the world. The sun was looking at us. Guess what, said Froggy, ‘I hope she doesn’t drop her phone in the water. Oh yeah, I also really hope that the COVID will end sooner!!!’”

Caroline Watkins said that, “Teddy’s interpretation of COVID-19 was very touching. His ability to describe his relationship with his mother during quarantine through cartoons was very creative. Although he submitted a series of art to the contest, this piece stood out to us the most.”

When asked how Tang feels after winning one of the contest’s categories, he said, “I feel crazy! I can’t believe the older ones didn’t beat me.”

Tang is a 3rd grader who attends Glenwood Elementary School in Chapel Hill. He is still adjusting to remote learning at home, but manages to spend some of his time producing art and making paper boomerangs (see photos).

“When I get bored, I just go to art,” Tang said. “Just a pencil and a piece of paper and when I draw something really good, I just color it and give it to my mom to see it.”

“Food” Category Winner

Name: Kun Xing

City: Frederick, Maryland

Description of art: “A woman eating a burger and fries. The all-American meal. Reminiscing on the times when I still consumed meat.”

After evaluating this piece, Ryan wrote that, “Wuhan’s famous dry noodles can’t compete with an all-American burger with fries! Coming out of the lockdown of cooking at home, so many people took a trip back to normalcy by visiting their favorite burger joint, even if it was just a takeout order.”

Xing considers herself to be an amateur mixed media artist, who started developing her artistic skills from an early age when her parents enrolled her in art classes. In college, she started to gravitate towards faster-drying mediums, such as gouache and watercolor.

During quarantine, Xing also started a passion project of hers on Instagram, in which she paints cards for people in exchange for donations to her clients’ charities of choice. You can find her account on Instagram @cardsforhumanity.jpg.

“I feel like to stay sane in your own brain, you have to have some sort of creative outlet,” Xing said.

“Heroes” Category Winner

Name: Kate Rainville

City: Pittsboro

Description of art: “Even though shattered by chaos, there is still beauty within.”

Caroline Watkins was impressed and moved by Rainville’s artwork. “Kate’s paper collage was incredibly telling of our collective experience of living through the era of COVID-19. This piece reminds us that through dark times, we must continue to seek out the light,” Watkins said.

Rainville attends Willow Oak Montessori School in Chapel Hill. She has been passionate about art for most of her life, she said.

Over the course of quarantine, Rainville has also experimented with new mediums, such as chalk pastels and oil pastels. According to the budding artist, she has also been working with colored pencils a lot more, too.

She believes her piece can be interpreted in a number of ways.

“The mask I created, there’s two parts of it,” Rainville said. “There’s the background and the front of it. So, the background is like a rainbow. In the piece, that kind of represents beauty within, but I also think it represents a lot of things to others, and that’s what I think is important about it.”

Rainville further described the “beauty within” heroes, who perform acts of kindness during difficult times.

“I think a hero is anyone, really, in our community that helps someone else,” she said. “It could be first-responders and healthcare workers, but it could also just be friends, neighbors or family reaching out to one another to help each other. It could be really big or it could be really small, but it’s still heroic.”

Reader’s Choice

Name: Victoria Barlow

City: Siler City

Description of art: “‘A Superhero’s Change’: They are our ‘Everyday Shining Stars,’ coming through when times are tough. They used to hide their Angel wings with different uniforms and help us in our times of need, but the pandemic has changed them, it changed them all. Now we have ‘Masked Superheroes.’ Still here, always responding, always helping no matter the call.”

Barlow’s artwork received a total of 114 likes on Facebook and 24 shares. In the comments section, people applauded Barlow for capturing her community and honoring first responders.

“Since I’m an acrylic artist and my mom has been a first responder for most of my life (she’s a volunteer firefighter/paramedic and full-time 911 telecommunicator), I wanted to incorporate that in my pandemic piece,” Barlow said. “I’m ecstatic over winning my first art contest. Thank you to everyone who voted for my entry.”

Honorable Mentions

We also wanted to give three contestants honorable mentions for their artistic achievements: Alice Zheng of Chapel Hill’s “Inside and Outside the Window 1-Little Bear Is Hospitalized,” Chengcheng Xue of Chapel Hill’s musical performance and Serenity Foley of Chapel Hill’s mask drawing.

The News + Record, along with Buck Ryan and Siqi Zhang, would like to thank all of those who entered the contest and voted on their favorite artwork on our Facebook page.

Zhang was “deeply moved by the artists who are trying to express solidarity, effort, encouragement and an optimistic attitude during the tough pandemic time.”

We were thrilled to see our readers exercise their creativity and impressive storytelling skills. We hope this contest brought some positivity into your lives during this difficult time, as it did with ours. Stay tuned for future News + Record contests in the coming year.

To see what people thought about the contest, click here.


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