Display of Paintings at US Capitol Crowns Significant Personal Project for Fine Arts Student – UNCSA | Candle Made Easy

Hilleary Wray’s painting Innocence is currently on display at the United States Capitol, winner of North Carolina’s annual Congressional Art Competition for District 10.

The high school graduate of the visual arts program submitted the painting — which depicts the porch of her grandparents’ family home in Maiden, NC — last spring to build her portfolio and expand her reach as an artist. And she was delighted to learn that a play that meant so much to her and her family had been selected by Rep. Patrick McHenry’s office to represent the district in the nation’s capital.

The painting will be on display at the Capitol until August 2022 (it was installed in August 2021) and reflects Wray’s time at UNCSA and her transition from high school to college, where she plans to study architecture. And she will have taken full advantage of this transition period, exploring new media and exploring her work as an artist before taking the next big step.

Wray’s painting of the porch of her grandparents’ house in Maiden, NC is on view at the US Capitol until August 2022

Congressional Art Competition

As a high school junior, Wray attended Discovery High, an all-honors high school in Newton-Conover, NC, in the spring of 2021. She says. She attended art classes at the public high school across the street and worked to build her portfolio to apply to UNCSA.

“I knew I wanted to go to UNCSA, and I wanted to start looking for grants, art competitions, and galleries—opportunities to get my art out there,” she says. Her art teacher introduced her to the Congressional Art Competition and she prepared the piece and her submission within a two-week window in May.

The annual competition, sponsored by the Congressional Institute, is held each spring to recognize and nurture artistic talent across the nation and in each congressional district. Students submit entries to their representative office and winning works are displayed at the US Capitol for one year.

Wray learned in August, just as she was beginning classes at UNCSA, that her play had been selected and was going to Washington, DC. In a video call with McHenry, he congratulated her and said the painting reminded him of his own grandparents’ house.

A piece of home

Wray’s piece, titled Innocence, is a painting of the porch of the house where her grandparents (and her own family) spent most of their childhood. It has a deep meaning for her whole family, especially in recent years.

“My grandparents owned a house in Maiden where I grew up. I was in this house from kindergarten through fifth grade. Even when we moved out, we kept coming back. We went on vacation and played with my cousins.”

She started painting in 2019 and around that time her grandfather had a stroke and was diagnosed with diabetes. The big house and accompanying land became too much for her grandparents to maintain.

…this seemed like the perfect opportunity to paint something for her because my family’s home meant so much.

Hillary Wray

“They decided to sell the house,” she says. “I had just started a piece but this seemed like the perfect opportunity to paint something for her because my family home meant so much.”

She gave the painting to her grandmother on the family’s last walk around the house. “I remember walking in and being really upset that we were leaving, but also dizzy because I had this big surprise for her,” she says. “When they moved into their new house, she found a blank wall in the dining room and put it right in the middle of the wall. As soon as you walked in, it was the first thing you saw in the new house.”

From science to art

The submission of her painting to the Congressional Art Competition was part of a larger plan by Wray to research her art further before beginning her architecture studies in college. At Discovery High, she had taken many AP courses and was dual enrolled in academic courses at the local community college. For her senior year, she wanted to balance that academic drive with a more focused art class.

“I’ve always been academically driven, but I’ve also always made art,” she says. “I taught dance when I was little, did theater for five or six years, and started painting in sixth grade. After about two years of painting, I started helping out with classes at Brush Strokes Studio,” she says. “I spent a lot of time there and started to get more into art.”

She decided to complete some of her AP courses at Discovery with the aim of applying to UNCSA for her senior year.

“I’ve been keen to study architecture for the past three or four years, and I saw applying to UNCSA as an opportunity to examine my portfolio and continue to grow my art.”

Exploring other art forms

Before joining UNCSA, Wray says she was always encouraged to pursue the types of art that interests her most. “And of course that was painting,” she says. “I really focused on that one medium.”

“When I came here, I actually didn’t know until I arrived that I was going to take a sculpture course,” she laughs. “Considering that I’ve only worked with two-dimensional art my entire life, I was a little put off. Sculpture was probably one of the more difficult classes.”

But she sees value in taking on the challenge. In fact, one of her favorite projects this year was a sculpture project during Intensive Arts.

For Fine Arts students, the two-week period was split into a week of sculpture and a week of design, with the project’s theme centered on a time when artists were not themselves. Together with partners, the students created a wearable sculpture in the first week. In the second week they should create an environment for this sculpture.

With partner Haven Lee, the pair decided to base their plays on the ways in which their personalities shifted around and were influenced by different people.

Wray and Lee with their portable sculptures

Wray (left) and Lee with their portable sculptures, Intensive Arts project. / Instagram photo: @uncsa.visualarts

“For our wearable sculpture, we created these hands that completely consumed us,” says Wray. Working with everything from plastic gloves and bags to heat guns and paper mache, the two created their pieces.

She takes pride in the finished pieces, she says, a result of her creative minds and imagination. And her experience working with sculpture will stand her in good stead next year in architecture school.

Wray has yet to decide on college, but knows she wants her work to focus on home design and sustainability. “It has always been important to me to be able to make a difference with my talent,” she says. “I really want to channel work on homes that are safer and better for the environment.”

And she says UNCSA has been a great stepping stone to her goal. “I really like having access to the studios and getting in touch with the different art disciplines,” she says. “I also like the freedom it gives me. I’m very organized and when I come here I feel like I can go a lot further because I have that ability.”

by Corrine Luthy

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