Best of Show

Art Flourishes During Pandemic – Student Artists Honored at Oglebay Institute’s Stifel Fine Arts Center

There is no shortage of art being created during the COVID-19 pandemic. Artists, of all ages, from around the globe, continue to draw, paint, sculpt and photograph—in spite of and because of—difficult times. Emerging artists from 14 area high schools are being recognized for their artistic contributions at Oglebay Institute’s 32nd Annual Regional Student Art Exhibition, on display at the Stifel Fine Arts Center.

Despite concerns that only a handful of works would be submitted to the student show this year, Oglebay Institute was committed to mounting the exhibit.

“We didn’t know what to expect. Typically, students work on pieces throughout the year in their art classes. Remote learning has presented many challenges, particularly in art since it is traditionally taught as a hands-on process. I thought we might only get a couple dozen entries,” said Stifel Center director Rick Morgan.

He continued, “These young artists work very hard. So, regardless of the number of submissions, we planned to honor our longstanding tradition of showcasing and celebrating their talents and accomplishments to the public.”

Much to the delight of Morgan and the Stifel Center staff, the number of entries was on par with previous years. A total of 194 works in a variety of mediums were submitted. “Artists will always create, even during difficult times. The collective body of work that these high school students produced illustrates the resourcefulness of artists—and their teachers— along with the emotional and intellectual comfort that art brings to people’s lives,” said Oglebay Institute marketing director Misty Klug.

Retired art professor, mixed-media artist and 2016 West Virginia artist of the year Robert Villamagna juried the show. He selected 109 works for inclusion in the show and chose the Best of Show and the top three pieces in five categories – painting, photography, drawing, 3D and mixed media.

Award winners are as follows:

Best of Show: Melissa Joya, Bellaire High School, for her photograph “Daydreamer”

Drawing: First Place, Chasadie Harris, Union Local High School; Second Place, Emma

Kuzminsky, Brooke High School; Third Place, Anjy Bereton, Union Local High School

Painting: First Place, Kira Wakulchik, St. Clairsville High School; Second Place, Angela Rithner, Brooke High School; Third Place, Voni Smith, Bridgeport High School

Photography: First Place, Rey Sadoff, Olney School; Second Place, Bryanna Beckett, Bellaire High School; Third Place, Bryanna Beckett, Bellaire High School

Mixed media: First Place, Julianna Walters, Wheeling Park High School; Second Place, Makenna Klarr, Martins Ferry High School; Third Place, Alex Holmes, John Marshall High School

3D and sculpture: First Place, Will Lanham, Wheeling Park High School; Second Place, Ashley McCarthy, Bellaire High School; Third Place, Veronica Mann, Brooke High School

  • Best in Show
    Best of Show - Melissa Joya "Daydreamer" Bellaire High School

Students also have opportunities to receive scholarships through participation in the show. West Liberty University awarded scholarships to Kira Wakulchik of St. Clairsville and Bryanna Beckett of Bellaire. Wakulchik was also awarded a scholarship to West Virginia University.

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This year’s awards ceremony and cash prizes are named in honor of Wheeling artist Jean Och, who passed away in June 2020, and made possible through donations to Oglebay Institute’s Stifel Fine Arts Center in memory of Och. Oglebay Institute president Danielle Cross McCracken describe Och as “an incredible artist, a vibrant soul, a community servant, a dear friend of Oglebay Institute and a champion for developing young artists.” She said the “outpouring of support was incredible and a true testament to how much Jean meant to the entire community.”

Fourteen high schools in six counties in Ohio, West Virginia are Pennsylvania represented in this year’s show. Schools include Avella (Pa), Bellaire, Bridgeport, Brooke, Linsly, Martins Ferry, McGuffey (Pa), John Marshall, Olney Friends School, River, Shadyside, St. Clairsville, Union Local and Wheeling Park.

Bellaire High School art teacher Megan Ritchea said OI’s Regional Student Art Show is a highlight of the year for her art students. “This experience has such a positive impact on them. They feel a huge sense of pride and it really boosts their confidence and gives them an opportunity to shine.”

In the same way that student athletes are publicly cheered and praised, it is important to celebrate and support student artists, Ritchea explained. Exhibits, like this one, provide that opportunity.  “This is our Super Bowl,” she said. Ritchea has seen participation in art classes increase steadily during her five years at Bellaire High School along with more enthusiasm and support from the community.

“Parents and the community are really rallying behind our art students and becoming champions of the visual arts. It is amazing and inspiring.” Ritchea’s students submitted 17 works; 13 were accepted into the show and four received awards.

Oglebay Institute’s Regional Student Art Exhibition is open to students in grades 9-12 within a 50-mile radius of Wheeling. The show is part of Oglebay Institute’s art exhibition season, which is sponsored by United Bank.

The show can be viewed free of charge now through February 20 at Oglebay Institute’s Stifel Fine Arts Center, 1330 National Road, Wheeling. Hours are 9 am to 8 pm. Monday through Thursday, 9 am to 5 pm Fridays and 10 am to 4 pm. Saturdays. Masks and social distancing guidelines are in effect. For more information on the show or how to participate, visit or call 304-242-7700.

Part of the nonprofit Oglebay Institute and housed in the historic Edemar Mansion, the Stifel Fine Arts Center is a public arts center with galleries, classrooms and performance space. Through year-round exhibits, classes and special events, the Stifel Center serves as a gathering place for artists, emerging artists, art lovers, students, educators and families—connecting and engaging the community in creative pursuits.

Misty Klug is director of marketing and communication for Oglebay Institute. An advocate for the arts, board game geek and wannabe comedian, she questions everything and always roots for the underdog. She lives in Shadyside with her husband Joe and their dogs — Norman and Lucy. Now empty nesters, their passions include renovating homes, traveling, engaging with old and new friends, and porch sitting.