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Scappoose High students earn state honors in National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards event, win Gold Key recognition

Twelve Scappoose High School students have earned honors in the state competition for the nation's oldest and most important art event for young artists, The National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

From now until Feb. 21, the Portland Metro Art exhibit will feature the work of several Scappoose High Gold Key award-winning student artists currently entered in the competition. 

Founded in 1923, the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards celebrates young, creative students from seventh-12th grades. In Oregon, approximately 6,500 individual pieces of art and close to 300 senior art portfolios were submitted as entries into the scholastic art competition. Each piece was judged on creativity, voice and technical skill by professional artists. 

"They're all judged at the same time in different rooms with these artists looking at it, critiquing it, and then they choose the best ones," Scappoose art teacher X.K. Austin said. "There's not a certain number, but they choose the ones that they think are just primo." 

In Oregon, only 30 high school seniors are designated as Gold Key award winners for their portfolios. Two of them attend Scappoose High: Ayla Bridges and Kay Li Spencer. 

"It's overwhelming," Bridges said of the win. "I'm proud and I'm happy, but I also don't know what it means because I'm not used to winning things or getting somewhere with art." 

Bridges, who intends to pursue a career as an artist after high school, submitted a self-portrait she said was self-reflective during a time she'd been put on medication and was going to therapy. She said it reflected her growth throughout that mental health process. 

"It's very personal to me, so I'm actually surprised that one won," Bridges said. "I'm a queer artist, so a lot of my work is exploring that sort of stuff, where it's not very mainstream but queer artists with mental illness." 

When Spencer was asked of her win, her first words were, "I don't know how that happened." 

Austin worries his students don't grasp the importance of their win just yet. Each of the Gold Key winners' artwork will advance to the national competition in New York City in March. If they win there, their art will be feted with a ceremony at Carnegie Hall and showcased at the prestigious Pratt Institute in June.

Additionally, all national Gold Key senior portfolio winners are eligible for 16, $10,000 scholarships to be awarded at the ceremony. 

"I don't think they grasp it," Austin said. "This is the first time we've had art shown for the high school kids. I'm super fortunate. It's just amazing when they're set free to create what they want to create, what they do. It's really nice to see." 

Spencer, who hopes to do art for the rest of her life, only painted one piece for the competition. She said she really wanted to draw a person, because she's good at drawing people, and she needed a person that she could pose and a face she could manipulate.

So, she chose her own. 

"As I kept going, because I was really making it up as I went along, I kept making dumb jokes — and those won somehow," Spencer said with a laugh. "I didn't really think about it that much but it's pretty funny to know that the portrait that has a tissue up my nose has an award attached to it. I wish I could say something deeper, but that's the gist of it." 

The Portland Metro Art exhibit will feature Gold Key award winning art, including those of the SHS student winners, from Clackamas, Washington, Columbia and

Multnomah counties until Feb. 21 at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, located at 511 N.W. Broadway in Portland.

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