Rangeley Lakes Regional School (RLRS) art teacher Sonja Johnson has been successfully shining the light on the talents of her students for decades as she enters her students in the annual Maine Scholastics Art Competition.

The Maine Scholastics jury members consist of members of Maine’s professional artist community including Portland Museum of Art staff, professional artists, and local gallery curators. This year more than 50 schools were represented from over 70 Maine towns. With over 1,000 works submitted, the judges had a very difficult task and students from RLRS had a lot of competition.

Seniors Lauren Farmer, Lauren Eastlack and Olivia Pye celebrating the Awards Announcement

Even against such astounding odds, each year Ms. Johnson’s students win awards. This year is no exception with her students receiving an impressive amount of 28 awards as follows:

American Visions Award, (Best in Show / only 5 awarded in each region) awarded to Olivia Pye. Gold Keys winners were Olivia Pye, Lauren Farmer who won 3 Gold Keys, Cassie Cielinski, and Lily Shaffer. Silver Key winners were Lauren Eastlack, Olivia Pye who won 2 Silver Keys, Cassie Cielinski and Tori White. Honorable Mentions were given to Charlotte Casko, Lauren Eastlack who won 4 Honorable Mentions including a Photography portfolio, Eva Spear, Lauren Farmer who received 4 Honorable Mentions including a Photography Portfolio, Averie Flewelling, Lily Lavallee, Charlie Pye, Olivia Pye (Photography Portfolio), Anna Rose Ross who received 2 Honorable Mentions and Lily Shaffer.

Winner of both a Silver and Gold Key, sophomore Cassie Cielinski Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

From all accounts, Ms. Johnson has a way of bringing out the best in each student. Gold Key winner Cassie Cielinski, a sophomore, who is a relatively new student at RLRS, says that compared to her art teacher at her previous school, Ms. Johnson “…seems to be more open- minded to all different types of kids. She gets along with everyone”. She recognized talent that Cassie did not even know she had. Ms. Johnson took the time to go through a series of photos Cassie had taken and chosen one Cassie did not even think was that special. Ms. Johnson happily recalled the winning piece called “Tub time”, “I could see right away that that was the photo to submit. It was very striking, it captured a special moment in time. It just needed a little work in Photoshop to bring out the soft pinks.” A similar story was told by Lauren Farmer, a senior, who received 3 Gold Keys as well as 4 Honorable Mentions including a Photography Portfolio. “She helps like bring all of the mesh in my brain to like one spot and then shows me different things that are really helpful, and then she pushes me to actually like put myself out there. One of my pieces that got a Gold Key I did not even want to submit. I was like ‘I don’t even think it’s that good’ and she was like ‘No! Submit it, submit it!’”

Gold Key winner: Tub time by Cassie Cielinski

Due to time constraints, it used to be that Ms. Johnson only submitted works of high school students. However, she started offering some workshop time for middle school students who have time after school and were milling around waiting for other activities such as sports events. It is because of this additional time that Lily Shaffer was the receiver of not only an Honorable Mention but the first ever middle school student from RLRS to receive a Gold Key award. When asked about the many extra hours after already long days to help her students Ms. Johnson replied, “I don’t mind, I love what I do”.

Art teacher Sonja Johnson along with Gold and Silver Key winning eigth grader Lily Shaffer, seen here with Lily’s Gold Key winning stained glass piece.   Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

All Gold and Silver Key winners will have their work displayed at the 2020 Maine Region Scholastics Art Exhibition, which takes place at Maine College of Art from February 28–March 14, 2020. Maine College of Art will be hosting a reception for the exhibition for Portland’s First Friday Art Walk on Friday, March 6 from 5–7pm. The 2020 Maine Region Scholastics Art Exhibition will culminate with an awards ceremony to celebrate student’s achievements and honor art educators who are the motors behind the student’s success. There will be a ceremony on Saturday, March 14th from 10am–12pm for grades 7–11 and 1–3pm for grade 12 to celebrate these students’ tremendous work!

You can find all of the winning Gold Key works, winning Silver Key works, and winning Honorable Mention works on the Maine College of Art website https://www.meca.edu/info-for/educators/maine-region-art-awards/.

One of Lauren Farmer’s Gold Key winning entries – Sleepy Hollow – Digital Photography manipulation

One of Lauren Eastlack’s Silver key winning entries- Goggles – oil painting

American Visions and Gold Key medal winning entry by Olivia Pye – Goats – Holga photography




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