This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Tajah Green, a senior at Franklin Learning Center, received the Juror’s Choice Award, the most competitive and prestigious honor at the Philadelphia Sketch Club’s 35th annual District-Wide High School Art Show.
The Philadelphia Sketch Club is America’s oldest sketch club for artists, founded in 1860. Each year, the club hosts 20 art exhibits, one of which is a high school show for which art teachers from Philadelphia can submit student work to be shown and judged.
Green received the award for her oil painting titled “Still Life,” which was the first oil painting she had ever done.
“Last year, my teacher placed one of my art pieces into the Sketch Club exhibit. It was a self-portrait, and I didn’t win anything,” Green said. “But this year was a breakthrough. It was really amazing. I went from not winning anything last year to winning something this year, and turns out it was the top award.”
Her art teacher, Christina Xiao Witt, who won the Special Teacher Award during the ceremony, said that Green has worked with acrylic paint and watercolors over her past four years at Franklin and that oil painting is a very different medium.
“It’s a more challenging material,” Witt said. “Most high school students aren’t really doing oil. It’s more advanced.”
Green is in AP Studio Art, which involves working on a yearlong portfolio, which is judged by the College Board. If the work is deemed to be at the level of a college student, Green can receive college credit for her work.
Franklin Learning Center, located in the Spring Garden neighborhood, is a special admission high school.
Tajah Green with her painting. (Photo: Christina Xiao Witt)
Although other Franklin Learning Center students have won awards from the Sketch Club, Green is the first to win the Juror’s Choice Award. Franklin has recently expanded its art program, and Witt sees the award as a testament to the new programs they offer.
“It’s a great honor because it’s starting to show that what we are trying to do is working. We are getting kids to that level that we want them to be performing,” Witt said. “It really reflects well on our program, our teachers, and what we are really trying to accomplish.”
For Green, winning this award gave her a newfound sense of confidence.
“There were people I didn’t even know [at the exhibit]. People came up and admired my work and congratulated me — everyone was amazed,” she said. “It made me feel great and really confident and proud of myself. It showed me that I am a good artist.”
“She’s a wonderful student. She’s such a hard worker,” Witt said, “It makes me feel great to see her be rewarded for all of her hard work.”
Green joked that between her family, the Sketch Club, and her school, there are lots of arguments over who gets to keep the painting when the exhibit is over.
Said Witt: “If you really do make that commitment to things, people will see and acknowledge that you are doing well and give you the credit for it. Your hard work will pay off.”