Instead of wine and cheeses, the artists snacked on cookies and bottled water Sunday, Jan. 26, at the 2020 Senior High School Juried Art Exhibit at the Yocum Institute of Arts Education in West Lawn.

Beyond that, the show put on by the Yocum staff was reminiscent of any professional art exhibit. The competitors were teen-aged artists working in cutting-edge mediums, using colors that popped, charcoal hallways that beckoned you inward, and ceramics and sculptures that resembled ancient Central American pieces.

Fourteen high school artists from six Berks school districts ultimately took home honors, some of them cash prizes and others scholarships to art education courses offered at Yocum.

Appropriately enough, Michele Byrne, the Reading painter who has won a global audience with her plein air and palette knife paintings, judged the contest.

"There is an overwhelming amount of talent in these high school students and this was not an easy task," Byrne said. "Besides the pieces that I picked, many others deserve awards.

"I was drawn to the portraits and pieces that shared something about the artist. These pieces speak to me, and they also make a statement."

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Lily Harris, a senior at Wyomissing High School, said she was working with collage materials and graphite pencils when she created "Idol." It depicts an introspective waif, in an arched wooden frame distressed to appear ancient, as gold foil robes set an inch off the canvas adorn a thoroughly modern-looking young woman with short hair and the face of a Botticelli angel. 

Idol won Harris the institute's Coggins Award, which brings with it a $250 prize.

The Coggins Award was established in 2006 to recognize artists who embrace the values Jack Coggins exhibited: creativity, innovation and service to the Institute and community. The recipient is chosen from nominations submitted by members of the artistic community, according to Susan Rohn, the institutes's executive director.

Taking first place, which comes with a $125 prize, was Wilson senior Anna Drake, who plans to go to Kutztown University to study applied digital arts and graphic design.

"This is my first big one," she said of Sunday's honor. "I never really got a first place in anything."

Rohn said Yocum has been training artists for more than 35 years. It offers classes in art, including dance and other disciplines for the general public. 

In its new space, with ample parking along Penn Avenue, Yocum puts on plays and other performances.

"It's our mission," Rohn said.

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