MANATEE -- Manatee County Superintendent Diana Greene was there Monday night.
So was Manatee County commissioner John R. Chappie and Manatee school board member Robert Gause and former school board member Harry Kinnan and longtime school district employee Linda Agresta and Philip Brown of the Unit
ed Way of Manatee and, it seemed, just about anyone who is anyone in Manatee County.
No, it wasn't a Manatee High versus Southeast High football game.
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It was art!
They were all there to meet 20 of the top art students Manatee County, whose works were expertly framed and hung in the lobby of the Manatee Performing Arts Center.
"To see the art work lifted up like this is fantastic," said Lisa DiFranza, assistant principal for student art at Manatee School For the Arts.
For the past nine years, The Manatee Education Foundation has encouraged the talents of aspiring student artists in Manatee County, Agresta said.
The culmination of the Foundation's efforts is the annual HeArt& Soul Gala, which is Saturday, Jan. 30, at the Manatee Performing Arts Center.
But, on Monday a crowd of 60 beautiful people arrived at a Gala preview, to see and be seen, to dine on hors d'oeuvres and to eagerly await the announcement from Executive Director Mary Glass of the Foundation as to the three "Best in Show" winners out of the 20 students.
The excited Glass could not contain her enthusiasm as she named Hannah Figueras, a senior at Braden River High, "Best in Show" for photography, Rachel Anne Rothfeld, a senior at Manatee High for "3D mixed media" and Amira Shaer, a senior at Manatee School For the Arts, for 2D painting or pen and ink.
Each of the "Best in Show" winners received $500 and a month-long, pre-college, art scholarship valued at about $2,000 at Ringling College of Art & Design, Glass said.
Figueras had also captured Best in Show for photography last year, Glass told the crowd.
All 20 students whose work was selected for the Gala were honored with photos of them and their art work.
Figueras' blue ribbon work this year was titled, "The Dark Knight," and it showed a Mercedes Benz Formula 1 race car.
"I think what's really interesting about this work is that it works as an abstract piece," said DiFranza, who joined Palmetto High School art teacher Troy Schroeder in giving expert critiques of the three winners.
"The use of light and shadow, kind of almost a monochromatic palette, makes it so compelling," DiFranza said.
"The way it is centered gives it a religious feel," Schroeder said.
"It's iconic," DiFranza said.
It soon became clear to keep up with DiFranza and Schroeder one must learn about monochromatic palettes.
Next was the "Best in Show" for 3D work, such as pottery or mixed media, and that went to Rothfeld for her "Primitive Vessel."
"I get where she is coming from," Schroeder said of the vessel. "This is one of the primitive tools you could use and I like how she used the mixed media. It looks like Raku with wood."
"It looks like primitive meets contemporary with the surfaces," DiFranza said. "She used some interesting iconography."
"The only way she could get that vibrant color is Raku," Schroeder said, speaking of a type of Japanese pottery.
"She used all kinds of 3D elements," Schroeder added. "Look at that wire wrapped around."
Finally, Shaer, had her pen-and-ink drawing called, "Annie."
"High contrast, white to black," Schroeder said of "Annie." "You have all the tonalities, 10, 20, 30 percent grays all the way up to 100."
"And those big eyes, how could you not be drawn in by that?" Schroeder said.
"You are drawn in by both the skillfulness of the piece and the character of the piece," DiFranza said.
DiFranza and Schroeder both could imagine where the three pieces would go in their homes. Who knows, maybe they will bid on them Saturday at the Gala.
The 9th Annual HeArt & Soul Gala and Live Art Auction will take place Saturday at the Center, 502 3rd Avenue West, Bradenton. A Cocktail Reception will begin at 5:30 p.m.; dinner and the live art auction will take place from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Bay News 9's Summer Smith will serve as emcee. Information: Mary Glass at 941-737-7175 or mefinfo.org.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.