Brandywine student earns first place in White House art competition

Published 9:07 am Wednesday, August 11, 2021

NILES — A Brandywine students’ work is now on display at the nation’s capital.

Incoming Brandywine High School freshman Allie Curtis-Lee was notified last month that she placed first in her age bracket, grades fourth through eighth, in an art contest sponsored by the White House Historical Association. As a first-place winner, Lee will receive a $1,000 prize and will have her art displayed in Washington D.C.

Her painting, “A Need to Mend,” which showcases the American divide by featuring an idyllic image of the White juxtaposed by protestors held back by a chain link fence, was chosen out of more than 500 submissions. Earlier this summer, she was announced as a contest finalist.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Lee said of her first-place win. “It was a huge surprise. It’s bizarre. I entered at school. I never expected to win nationally. That’s crazy. It’s overwhelming, but it’s great.”

In a statement describing her piece, Lee wrote “Unfortunately, as of late, our country has been separated, and this painting represents that. Between the unjust murder of people of color to the problematic ideals that are still circulated today, I’m sure we can all reason that this is an issue. No matter your political opinion, or your race or your ethnicity, the harsh truth is, we need to get better.”

Following the announcement of her win, Lee said her artwork was a way for her to express herself and her experiences as a mixed-race teen living in a small town.

“I think Niles can be a kind of close-minded town, and there are not very many outlets for me to express my opinion,” she said. “I felt like I could express how I felt and how I feel about today’s issues through my art. I felt like submitting it was my way of telling people how I felt and expressing what I can’t openly express in Niles, Michigan.”

Lee’s family is planning a trip to Washington D.C. next month to see her painting on display. The teen believes seeing her expression of herself on the national stage will be “overwhelming and strange,” but she is excited.

Following her experience with the White House Historical Association’s contest, Lee said her art ambitions have only been encouraged. She plans to continue with art throughout her high school career and is planning on entering other art competitions in the future. Currently, she is working on a piece including her two dogs and her bird for a pet portrait contest.

No matter what her subject is, Lee said she believes that art can make a difference in the world and lead to change.

“I want people to know that life in Niles as a mixed person can be difficult, and I think my art and the things I can show people is my way of expressing that and how I feel about the current world,” she said. “I definitely think art can change people’s perspective.”