Lafayette art teacher wins top award at show

After a six year break from competitive art, Shainna Grant, a Lafayette High School art teacher, won an Award of Excellence for her ceramic piece at the Williamsburg Contemporary Art Center’s 2018 Juried Art Show.

“It was really exciting,” Grant said. “I decided to teach because I like sharing how to do these things with other people, but I just recently have gotten back into competing in my own work as well.”

She said as someone with two full-time jobs — a teacher and an artist — she was excited to be able to compete with artists who work on their craft full time.

The exhibition was open to all Virginia artists. There were around 230 pieces submitted to the competition with 78 selected for display.

Grant’s winning piece, A Hidden Strength, was a detailed ceramic sculpture of an armadillo. She said the armadillo represents the struggle to survive and thrive in a dangerous and uncaring world.

To protect itself, the armadillo curls up in a ball and displays its spikes, making it unappealing to predators. Grant said even though the armadillo is fearful, it possesses the tools it needs to survive, just like we all do.

Growing up in the Williamsburg area, Grant went to Jamestown High School. She said an art class in high school is what sparked her love for working with 3-D media.

“I’ve found 3-D has this life to it,” Grant said. “I love being able to move around the work where it’s almost like a dance when you’re creating it, so I like the way 3-D causes me to move while I’m making it.”

She said she took a break from competing in art competitions when she began teaching. However last year, she was accepted into the Charles H. Taylor Artists Who Teach exhibit, which made her want to recommit to creating her own work again.

“Teaching has taught me more about art than anything that I took in college or before that,” Grant said. “I think I really did grow even in that time I was not entering the shows.”

She said explaining art techniques and concepts to students who do not understand them right away prompted her to reflect on what she’s doing as an artist to the forefront as her mind.

“The students are just so creative as well they really are a great source of inspiration and I love being around them and working with them,” Grant said.

Grant said her win has gotten enthusiastic support from her students, the school and the greater community.

“I actually have two classes who are working in clay right now, and I had actually shown them a picture of the piece before I entered it in the art show … they didn’t really understand how to make it at that point so I don’t think it was that impressive to them,” Grant said.

“But two of my classes are in clay right now, so when I said I had won the award they wanted to see the piece … when I told them it was made out of clay they said ‘oh you have to be kidding, there’s no way you made that out of clay.’”

She told the students when she was their age there was no way she would have been able to make that piece, but she kept with it and built the skill. Grant also told her students when she started the sculpture she wasn’t sure she could create the level of detail she wanted.

“One of the things that I do like to do pretty regularly as an artist is pick a project I’m not sure that it's within my ability level,” Grant said. “I tell (my students) that’s how you grow. If you always work in your comfort level your not going to see what your limits are …. and that’s a great conversation to have with them because that’s something than can apply to whatever field they go into.”

Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.

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