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Competition highlights Southern Tier artists

With a significant financial boost from the F. Donald Kenney Foundation, the Southern Tier Biennial offers artists a level of support not found often in juried art competitions, let alone those based in small cities like Jamestown and Olean.

According to Anne-Conroy Baiter, Executive Director of the Cattaraugus County Arts Council,  artists receive generous travel fees if their work is accepted for the show. While three $500 prizes are also awarded, the top prize offers an extraordinary opportunity.

"They get an honorarium of $1,000. They get a "Best of Show" award of $1,000. They get a solo show for the next year. They get $1,000 in professional development monies. And $1,000 of show supplies. It enables an artist to put on a high quality solo show, which will have its own four-color catalog."

With so much to gain, the $30 entry fee seems like a minor investment. But entering opens an artist to the crash of self esteem that comes with rejection.

"I think if you are an artist, of any type, visual or otherwise, you must, early on, feel comfortable with rejection. It's going to  happen," said competition juror Kate Kuperski, curator of the Castellani Art Museum at Niagara University.

"Just try again. Keep trying. Never give up. If people offer to give you the advice and offer to give you the critique, take it. But ultimately it's up for you to decide which path. But keep trying. Keep trying no matter what."

Koperski teamed with fellow juror John Vanco, Director and Curator of the Erie Art Museum, in handing out plenty of rejection. Only three dozen of about 200 entries were accepted for this year's show.

In the early summer as the final entries poured in, six hopeful artists shared their stories with WBFO News.

All accepted rejection as possible, even inevitable.

Olean's Peg Bothner says she's been involved in art since she began drawing lessons as a Connecticut teenager, some seven-plus decades ago. Bothner recalls her reaction many years ago at Chautauqua Institution when she was spurned by an art show judge, a man she later tracked down at the lunch table.

"I said I'd just to like to know why it (my work) wasn't picked. You know what he said to me? 'Get a thicker skin!'"

Now approaching 83, Peg Bothner won't be chasing down the Biennial's jurors. Two of her pieces were accepted and will join the others on display starting Saturday at the Olean Public Library Gallery and Jamestown Community College's Center Gallery.
Also on exhibit will be "Clothesline Season," from Elmira's Christine Sullivan.

A former successful graphic artist and broadcast professional, Sullivan opted to slow life down, seeking the peace that comes with painting. Along the way, she risked rejection and sought the professional confirmation that could come with acceptance from the Southern Tier Biennial.

"What was wonderful was the first time that I got in (the Biennial) . It really helped me jump a few steps on the ladder."

That climb has taken her to the type of place most artists only dream of. She paints professionally from her studio in the mansion that once belonged to Mark Twain's in-laws.

The art world has provided a profession for Peter Tucker, who teaches visual arts at SUNY Fredonia. Earlier this summer, he admitted that acceptance from a juried show like the Southern Tier Biennial would help his university credentials.

Nonetheless, with entries of what he called "conceptual art," he suspected rejection, a suspicion that proved true.

"They aren't necessarily aesthetically very interesting. All those pieces that I submitted were three QR codes, individually printed on nice pieces of paper and framed. You can also see that similar QR code on the side of your Starbucks coffee cup," Tucker said earlier this week.

"Anyways, I wasn't incredibly surprised, but it's hard not to be a little disappointed."

Rejection aside, Tucker remains committed to creating art, teaching art and pursuing more juried art competitions.

The motivation couldn't be more different for 27-year-old Trevor Brachman of Ellicottville, who says he's been creating his silver jewelry for just a year-and-a-half.

"The reason for entering this show was really because a lot of people told me to. And it's the first time I've ever done anything like this and felt it would be a real cool opportunity."

That relaxed approach may helped Brachman: The jurors accepted all three of his entries.

Now in his fifties, David Higgins of Corning, can empathize with Brachman. Higgins recalls a time early in his career when he enjoyed what he called "beginner's luck" when entering art competitions.

The humbling reality of rejection would soon enter his career. But he continued along the artist's path, one that helped him develop an eye for the beauty of the place he calls home.

"The Southern Tier is a special area. As a landscape painter and a guy who paints a lot of structures that are part of the landscape, like garages and houses with character, I really do think it has its own kind of special look that has really grown on me and is endlessly inspirational."

It's inspiration that has sparked a career in art. An associate professor at Corning Community College, Higgins earned  "Best in Show" in the 2011 Southern Tier Biennial.

The jurors also accepted two more of his pieces for this year's show.

Now on an art scholarship at Alfred University is 21-year-old Reese Peacock of Cuba, New York. As she discussed the possibility that her Biennial entries could be rejected, she revealed a fiery look of determination.

"I go to art school. I deal with critiques every other week. So, I would just consider it just another critique. At this point in my college career, my skin is pretty tough," Peacock said with a laugh.

Her glass and fabric installation, "Henrietta," was accepted and will be on display starting this Saturday at Olean Public Library Gallery and Jamestown Community College's Center Gallery where the Southern Tier Biennial exhibit runs through October 25th.

Monday - Friday, 6 a.m. - 10 a.m.

Jay joined Buffalo Toronto Public Media in 2008 and has been local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" ever since. In June, 2022, he was named one of the co-hosts of WBFO's "Buffalo, What's Next."

A graduate of St. Mary's of the Lake School, St. Francis High School and Buffalo State College, Jay has worked most of his professional career in Buffalo. Outside of public media, he continues in longstanding roles as the public address announcer for the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League and as play-by-play voice of Canisius College basketball.