Melissa Merli: Contest judging an enjoyable time

Melissa Merli: Contest judging an enjoyable time

Judging art can be a real pain, particularly when you and the other judges are not on the same page.

But I had a blast earlier this month helping to evaluate the latest round of submissions for the "MTD Art: Moving Pictures Through Your Neighborhood" program.

In it, reproductions of works by Champaign County artists are displayed on the insides of MTD buses, alongside the advertisements.

The other judges - Kelly White and Amanda Baker, both of 40 North 88 West, and Jan Kijowski, marketing director for the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District - and I were able to select, in an hour, eight works from  57 entries.

We didn't bicker, and we had no major disagreements.

The judging was "blind," meaning we (except for White) didn't know who the artists were. Here's how we worked: Using her laptop, White showed all of the images. Then we went through them again, eliminating the ones we didn't want or that wouldn't work in the MTD format. We also considered what MTD riders, of whom I am one, would appreciate seeing.

After we finished our task, I was surprised to discover that our first and clearly unanimous choice was a painting by Harry Breen, a University of Illinois emeritus art professor.

He has had a distinguished career as a painter, sculptor and church artist.  I wondered why would Breen enter the MTD contest. There are, no prizes or money for the artists, other than having on the 91 MTD buses, for six months, reproductions of their pieces.

So I called Breen and asked.

"Paul, my son, came by and told me, 'Hey, you should put one of your paintings on a bus,' and I said, 'OK, why not?'" he replied.

Breen, who's 83 and lives in Champaign, submitted just one: a central Illinois farm landscape he had painted in oils on linen, on commission from a farmer. It shows a combine harvesting a field of corn and a squall line to the left.

The formation of the squall made me shout during the judging, "That cloud looks like the Assembly Hall!"

"You mean State Farm Center," Baker said, somewhat wryly.

Breen agreed that the squall, which usually portends bad weather, does look a bit like the Assembly Hall, er, State Farm Center.

He also told me he was happy for the commission. He had not been making art since his wife, Diane, died two years ago of a rare cancer. The commission got him going again, and he said that feels good.

He said he's "tickled" to have been juried into "MTD Art."

"I'm from Chicago originally," he said. "I remember seeing things from the collection of the Art Institute on the bus. It is sort of art education."

Dixon Graphics prints, gratis, the reproductions for MTD Art. A copy of Breen's painting will ride the buses from Thursday through Oct. 31.

The other pieces in that rotation:

— Danielle Meador's "Literacy," a digital photograph of books. We thought it would be suitable for a university town.

— Michael Schwegmann's porcelain, "Flag with Worker."

— Andrea Shields' "Carnaval," a watercolor and collage.

The art to be featured Nov. 1 through Jan. 31:

— Michael Buras' "Stacked Stones," a digital photograph that reminded us judges of a day at the beach.

— Beth Darling's "Tin Truck," an oil on canvas painting that we thought was whimsical and sweet and would appeal to young riders.

— Laura Wennstrom's "Cellular 02," a paper collage that reminded us of the prints on African fabrics.

— Derek Winstanley's triptych photograph of his "Native Americans" sculptures, which he made from spalted maple and alabaster.

"MTD Art: Moving Pictures Through Your Neighborhood" came about after photographer Don Fonner approached Kijowski "a long time ago" about the MTD putting local art on its fleet. Fonner persisted.

Finally MTD agreed to take on the project, with help from 40 North 88 West, the Champaign County arts council.

For the first rotation of "MTD Art," which started in November 2012, only Fonner's work was featured. Then the program was opened to all Champaign County artists.

Videos of interest

Speaking of Baker, programs and events coordinator for 40 North, after the MTD Art judging, she sent me a link to a two-minute video she made called "Art Is Work."

It shows artists here at work; she told me they really appreciate it because so many people have the misconception that making art is not work. Check it out at

Also, Todd Salen, a volunteer for CUTC, sent me a video of rehearsals for CUTC's upcoming "Les Miserables." It's a good video too:

At Farm Progress

For the first time in his long career, photographer Larry Kanfer will be at the Farm Progress Show in late August in Decatur. He will show his photographs, many of them depicting agricultural life here on the prairie and in the Midwest.

"I am thrilled to be participating in Farm Progress because for 35 years I have been enamored with farmers, rural life and the understated beauty of the American Midwest," he said in a news release. "This gives me a chance to share my appreciation with the agricultural community through my artwork."

Kanfer will be in the Rural Life and Art Tent in the northeast quadrant. He will showcase his Prairiescapes artwork, calendars and books, among them "Barns of Illinois."

Each day during the 2013 Farm Progress Show, the Kanfer Photography booth also will host raffle giveaways of Kanfer photos and the chance for Kanfer to take a photographic portrait of your farm. If you have one, of course.

News-Gazette staff writer Melissa Merli can be reached at 351-5367 or Her blog is at

Topics (1):Art

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