Jamestown college student wins prestigious art award
Each year, senior studio art majors at Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tenn.) are invited to compete for the prestigious Margaret Stonewall Wooldridge Hamblet Award. The award was established in 1984 by Clement H. Hamblet in honor of his wife, who he met while she was studying abroad. This year, an artist with a Jamestown background was presented with the Hamblet.
Hannah Stahl is a senior at Vanderbilt. She grew up in Providence and went to Moses Brown. Following graduation, her family moved to Jamestown where she spent two summers working at Slice of Heaven.
Stahl’s art pursuits began at an early age – she was published in Humpty Dumpty Magazine when she was just 4 years old. “My mom was always encouraging me to do art,” Stahl said. “Once I got into high school I realized it was defi- nitely a passion. I didn’t know if it would be practical financially, but I realized that the most important thing is to do what you love.”
Stahl attended Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., for her freshman year, then transferred to Vanderbilt. She felt that it was a bigger school where there would be greater opportunities. Although she initially studied biology, Stahl soon became impressed with the art program at Vanderbilt and switched her major to studio art in her sophomore year.
The Hamblet Award win brings Stahl $25,000, which is intended to be used for one year of travel and independent art study. The study and travel culminate with a solo art show for her at Vanderbilt in 2014.
Stahl, whose art can be seen on HannahStahl.com, plans to stay in Nashville for the year following graduation. She already has studio space lined up for painting. She is putting together a portfolio for graduate school, where she hopes to get her Master of Fine Arts. Stahl will also work for a start-up advertising agency in Nashville during this time.
The contest came to Stahl’s attention when she was in her sophomore year, and she was determined to compete when she became a senior. “I took it really seriously,” she said. “I was in the contest with 12 others. We were all in our studios all the time, making art constantly.”
Three art educators, who are artists themselves, judged the Hamblet contest. There are three phases to the competition. First, the artists must submit a written proposal that outlines what they would do with the $25,000 award if they were to win it.
“I wrote that I wanted to go to a place that held a lot of memories,” Stahl said. “My work is a lot about memory and the past, and how past experiences that you might regret really affect you internally. So I thought it would be interesting to go to Poland, specifically Warsaw and the surrounding areas, to see where the concentration camps were and places where the Holocaust occurred.”
She added, “I thought it would be interesting and give me a lot of conceptual inspiration and emotional inspiration.”
Stahl has family roots in Poland, although she no longer has living relatives there. She feels that the fact that her ancestors were there will make it a personal journey for her to see where she came from. “My art is very personal, so it makes sense for me to go to a place like that.”
The young artist also plans to go to Amsterdam and Berlin to see works by Rembrandt and Caravaggio. According to Stahl, both of those artists inspired her work. “I really appreciate their single light source, and the way the backgrounds are really dark,” she said.
The second phase of the competition finds the judges coming to Vanderbilt to look at the actual work of the artists, which is followed by a personal interview with each for the three judges for each artist. Stahl said that the interview included questions about her infl uences, how she developed her style, and how she portrays emotion in her work.
The jurors not only looked at the art that was on display in the gallery, but also at work that the artists had placed online for the occasion. Stahl’s online presentation included work from her early years in high school to demonstrate how her style developed. For the physical show, Stahl submitted four paintings, each one a self-portrait.
“I didn’t exactly portray myself in the most normal sense,” Stahl said. “One would be a view of me looking down with a lot of shadows across my face. Another would have a bright light on my neck. They are all kind of unusual images with light really speaking. I used body parts to be a metaphor for internal feelings.”
Despite her determination – and a lot of hard work – Stahl didn’t allow her expectations to get too high, hoping to avoid a letdown if she didn’t win. Although she didn’t write a speech for the award ceremony, she did spend some time thinking about what she would say if she did win.
“I didn’t want to have absolutely nothing to say, so before the ceremony I watched some Academy Award speeches just to see what they said, in case I did win. I wanted to be prepared. I prepared for every other phase of the process, so I thought I should prepare for this.”
When her name was announced as the winner, Stahl was shocked. She had difficulty breathing as a huge release of emotion washed over her. Despite being in tears and visibly shaking, she managed to thank all of her teachers. “They were all in tears, too, so it was a really nice feeling,” she said. Stahl also thanked the jurors and her friends.
After taxes and travel expenses, Stahl intends to spend the balance of her award money on supplies for making, framing and transporting the 20 pieces that she expects to place in her solo show in 18 months.
“Having a solo show is exciting for any artist,” Stahl said. “I feel a huge responsibility to come back with a great show that shows that I learned a lot and did a lot with the money.”