Shown with their award-winning works of art in the pre-renovation art classroom at Wessington Springs High School are, left to right: Maddie Neely, Alicia Jackson, Art Instructor Alicia Roesler and Kenzee Schafer.

Look no further than the halls of Wessington Springs High School and the “Artist’s Corner” in the True Dakotan and it’s no secret that youth artistic talent is abundant in this community. 

Move to a larger stage and one might expect small town artists to lose their spot in the limelight — but that’s not the case for art students from Wessington Springs. 

At the 2018 Youth Art Show at Dakota Discovery Museum in Mitchell, three Wessington Springs students took home hefty prizes, including the 2018 Best in Show that was awarded to Kenzee Schafer for her work entitled "Native Spirit."

The contest featured works from 169 K-12 student artists representing 16 school districts, for a total of 234 pieces of art.

Maddie Neely won first place out of all high school entries for her painting and Alicia Jackson won a superior award among all high school students for her work. 

“I feel really blessed to work with kids that try this hard and give their best effort,” said WSHS Art Instructor Alicia Roesler. “Their work went up against artwork from schools across the state and they did exceptionally well. They definitely held their ground against those larger schools.” 

Roesler believes in pushing kids to the next level and says that she is tough on due dates. 

“When it becomes easy, you’re not going to progress in your art” she said. “They know I won’t let them pick projects that will be too easy for them.”

But she is quick to give her students credit for their successes. 

“They are willing to put the time in and push themselves. It would be impossible to complete these types of wonderful projects only during class time,” she said. “I do my best to give them the teaching knowledge I can and to stay late and help. That’s the least I can do when they are willing to put in the time and accept the challenges I give them.”

All three students said that the art classroom is a calming, comfortable work environment that they enjoy. 

“After a hard test in another subject, art students come in and tell me they are so happy to put their computer away and work on an art project,” Roesler said. “It’s a testament to what art can do.”

Jackson, an advanced art student who prefers working with acrylic paint, said that she is grateful WSHS has an art program and that Roesler encourages her students to enter art contests. 

“It was exciting to enter a show against more serious artists. The competition was tough and I think WSHS students should definitely enter next year.”

Schafer said she enjoys working in class but also stays quite busy creating artwork at home — her favorite mediums being oil painting and pencil sketch. “Lots of small schools don’t have an art program,” she said. “Even though I do a lot of work at home I really like to work in the art room at school.” 

“The art I do here (in class) is better than what I create at home,” Neely said. “In this classroom, everything else falls away and I can focus on my art.” 

As for their award-winning works of art, each student has a different plan.

Jackson said that she wants to give her painting to her mom or brother, while Neely wants to hang hers somewhere in her family’s house. 

Schafer, who is no stranger to earning money for her artwork, said that she has already received inquiries about “Native Spirit” being for sale. Artistic and equally entrepreneurial, she has opted to keep the original for herself and make prints to sell  — at an award-winning premium.