Friends of Art student prizes awarded to outstanding writer, painter and songwriter

Posted on April 26, 2017 by Janika Carey

The Sweet Briar College Friends of Art recently announced the winners of its 2017 student prizes. Awards were given out to three students in the categories Writing, Studio Art and Multidisciplinary, with each student receiving $500.

Jules Sudol Jules Sudol won the Friends of Art Studio Art Prize.

All submissions are based on a work of art in the College’s permanent collection, which encompasses more than 4,000 pieces.

First-year Rachel Partington won the Friends of Art Writing Prize for her short story “Cypress for Mortality” referencing Catherine Opie’s photograph “Miggie and Irene.” Junior Jules Sudol received the Studio Art Prize for her oil painting “Untitled 01,” which was inspired by Jean Shin’s print “Pressed Jeans.” Senior Briana McCall’s song “Machine,” referencing Joan Snyder’s print “…and acquainted with grief,” scored the Multidisciplinary Prize.

Each category was judged by a panel of Sweet Briar College faculty and Friends of Art board members. Creative writing program director John Gregory Brown and associate professor of art history Kimberly Morse-Jones served on the Writing jury, along with FOA board member Susan Stephens Geyer ’74. The Studio Art category was judged by studio art professors Laura Pharis and John Morgan, as well as FOA board member Celeste Wackenhut ’08, who also served on the Multidisciplinary jury, along with assistant professor of theater arts Melora Kordos.

Art galleries director Karol Lawson is pleased with the competition’s growing popularity since it was established in 2009.

“This is a wonderful example of an alumnae group working closely with professors to encourage students and support the curriculum,” Lawson notes. “It has been quite satisfying to watch the program grow over the past several years. I can’t overemphasize the enthusiasm of the Friends of Art board for these prizes. It is also worth noting that the three students’ sources are artworks acquired for the College’s collection through support from the Friends of Art.”

Wackenhut, who served as a judge for the second year, is one of those enthusiastic board members.

“As a Friends of Art board member and alumna who lives far from Sweet Briar, it is special to be able to see the work of current students in this way,” Wackenhut said.

Rachel Partington Rachel Partington won the Writing Prize in this year’s Friends of Art contest.

“I appreciate the intimacy of the submissions and the opportunity to have a conversation with a student through their artwork. And best of all, the source is always Sweet Briar’s collection. It is important to stress the accessibility of the collection through opportunities like this. And now that the prize has three categories, it provides an even broader avenue from which our creative students can feel connected to the collection.”

Rachel Partington’s winning Writing entry impressed the jury with its “beautiful control of narrative on display, the measured grace of the writing, and the real empathy the story prompts in the reader,” Brown said. “This story is a remarkably assured piece of writing from a first-year student.”

Reading the opening lines of her short story, it’s easy to see what Brown means.

I stare at the vase of flowers on the wide hospital windowsill. Baby’s breath, roses, daisies. Purity, beauty, innocence. They pulled the blinds closed earlier because she’s sleeping, but a slim line of golden light creeps through and falls on her face and the pillow. She’s been sleeping a lot since they wheeled her in here three days ago, but she hasn’t cried.

I’ve cried so much.

An English/creative writing major, Partington couldn’t quite believe she won, admitting the award “doesn’t feel real.” She plans to spend her summer working in Midlothian, where she lives, and “hopefully doing a lot of writing.”

Studio Art winner Jules Sudol was equally surprised when she found out her painting had been declared a winner. “I am absolutely thrilled and so pleasantly surprised!” said the business and studio art double major from Scottsville, adding she would “put the money to good use by purchasing my art supplies next year — so I can continue to create more art here at Sweet Briar.”

Sudol’s piece made a big impression on the jury.

“When I first saw Jules’ painting, it wasn’t finished, but it was full of promise,” Pharis said. “She has pulled it off beautifully. Jules shows us a lot of color and a range of values in a simple white shirt with its shadows and light, translated into paint. This quiet painting allows the viewer to have a vicarious experience — who isn’t familiar with the weight and texture of a white shirt? One cannot ignore the empty nail. The painting catches us up short and invites reflection.”

Jules Sudol painting Jules Sudol, “Untitled 01,” oil on canvas, 2017.

Sudol is planning a summer internship in Charlottesville.

Music and French double major Briana McCall, from Moscow, Idaho, welcomed the opportunity to submit one of her creations.

“Usually, there are only creative writing awards, and I don’t quite fit into that category with songwriting,” she said. “The piece I submitted isn’t very ‘marketable’ because it is more of an academic piece — it wasn’t created for mass consumption, but more so to show my songwriting capabilities — so it was nice to be able to submit the song in an academic setting.”

“Machine” is a quietly emotional acoustic guitar ballad performed by McCall, whose vocals are somewhat reminiscent of singer-songwriter Jewel.

“[The song] is part of a concept album that takes structural inspiration from song cycles of the late 19th century,” explains associate professor of music and department chair Jeff Jones. He also oversees McCall’s senior capstone project, which includes the album.

“It is a musical reflection on her college experience — what she’s learned academically, but also socially and emotionally — framed within interrelated songs.”

Assistant professor of music Joshua Harris, who directs Sweet Briar’s brand-new SArPA studio for sound art production and analysis, knows why the concept album is perfect for McCall.

“Briana has a clear vision for large-scale projects; she knows what she wants to do and has the skills to pull them off,” Harris said.

Guitar and songwriting instructor Eric Hollandsworth would agree. He points out that McCall spent a big chunk of the semester learning the nuts and bolts of music production.

“We experimented with studio process — mic choice and placement, recording effects and procedures — and through her diligence, she gained an in-depth understanding of the recording processes, and true working knowledge of the industry standard recording software used,” Hollandsworth said.

Briana McCall and Josh Harris Briana McCall and Prof. Josh Harris in the electroacoustic lab at Sweet Briar

An outdoor enthusiast, McCall plans to hike the Appalachian Trail after graduation.

The Friends of Art is a philanthropic organization comprising alumnae, students, faculty, staff, friends and neighbors of Sweet Briar College that encourages the study and enjoyment of the visual arts on campus by supporting art acquisitions and educational programs. The current president of the Friends of Art is Nan Dabbs Lofton ’81.

For more information, contact Lawson at or (434) 381-6248.