A Magical Moment: Witnessing the Transformation from Artist to ARTIST

"Bound Series - Earthbound", Wooden Sculpture, by Karl Koch
“Bound Series – Earthbound”, Wooden Sculpture, by Karl Koch

Last week I attended the artist reception for the national juried exhibition “2023 Handcrafted” at the Maria V. Howard Center in Rocky Mount, NC. Part of the event was a much-awaited award ceremony.

After viewing the artwork, the artists, their guests, visitors from the town, the representative of the gallery, and juror Susan Fecho congregated in front of the exhibition spaces for the announcement of the winners selected by Mrs Fecho.

Everyone was excited, and of course, every artist was hoping to be among “the chosen ones”.

The gallery representative gave a short introduction about the concurring exhibition “Naturally” by Brenda Brokke and Leatha Koefler, followed by her thoughts about “Handcrafted”.

Then was Mrs. Fecho’s turn. She spoke about the different levels of appreciation handcrafted art has across regions of North Carolina and the challenges narrowing down the submissions of artwork to only a limited number of pieces to fit into the gallery space. Subsequently, she needed to choose even fewer artwork as the winners.

The crowd was silently listening as the anticipation was growing.

Best of Show, which was the $1000-acquisition award by the gallery, was announced first.

The winning artist, a slightly older gentleman, stood not far from me. I witnessed his immediate reaction: his jaw dropped, tears welled up in his eyes, he tried hard to compose himself, but was not very successful in his attempts.

Everyone was quiet, unsure how to respond to this emotional reaction.

I started clapping to end the awkward silence, and the others put their hands together as well. The winner wiped away the tears, began to smile, still overwhelmed, but slowly taking in that everyone celebrated his success.

Mrs Fecho moved on to announce the recipients for first, second and third place as well as the honorable mentions.

After the ceremony, when I saw that the Best-of-Show winner had calmed down, I congratulated him to his award. He became emotional again, telling me that he is a woodturner and so far, he has always made functional work. The piece in this exhibition is his first art piece. He felt that the award makes him now an ARTIST because someone else recognized his work as art. I asked a number of questions, and by talking about his work he seemed to be more and more at ease.

In the course of the afternoon many visitors approached Karl. He explained his techniques, his thoughts, his ideas for the next art pieces. By now, he was beaming!

His joy brought me joy.

It was a magical moment that reminded me of the moment I became an Artist with a capital A:

I had applied for a grant for emerging artists and one sunny afternoon I went to get the mail from the mailbox. Included was a letter from the Durham Arts Council.  Without opening the envelope, I knew right away that this letter was about the grant. I was excited, but at the same time nervous. My hands started shaking as I opened the envelope.

Who was I to even dare to submit the request for a grant? I had never gone to art school, I was only a self-taught fiber artist who had quit her job as a scientist to fulfill her dream of becoming a fiber artist. What had I’ve been thinking?

Artist Christine Hager-Braun with her fiber artwork "Perseverance"
Me with my fiber art piece “Perseverance” at the exhibition “Handcrafted”

I expected a rejection, I was prepared for a rejection. For sure it was a rejection.

And then…

the letter started with “Congratulations!”

My first thought was: “They must have made a mistake!”

Really, me getting a grant? Me?

My initial disbelief was followed by excitement, dancing through the front yard, an immediate call to my husband, and a huge smile which lasted for days.

My first grant provided an incredible boost of confidence because a reputable entity such as the Durham Arts Council and their review panelists recognized me as an artist. From then on, I owned the professional title “Artist”.

Did I receive any of the awards in Handcrafted? No. Would I have liked to win the $1000 acquisition award? Of course.

But seeing Karl win Best of Show makes me even happier. I can relate to the immediate revolutionary change that recognition can fuel, and on Sunday afternoon I witnessed the magical moment when an artist transformed into an Artist!