Upcoming kids art competition honors memory of self-taught artist

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Cutline: Bill Harris stands with a portrait of his late wife, Susan "Sue" Harris, who passed away July 2022. She was a self-taught artist who had a never-quit attitude. In the spirit of encouraging young people to pursue their art, Bill got the ball rolling for a kids art competition at Elements Art Gallery & Studio in Joplin. Rebecca Haines / CNO

JOPLIN, Mo. — Sometimes all a kid needs is just a little encouragement … That’s the heart of an upcoming competition for the area’s young aspiring artists.

Elements Art Gallery and Studio – located in Joplin but owned and operated by Carthage artists Kristen Hawkins and Cher Jiang – has extended an invitation to all area artists ages fifth grade through high school to a friendly art competition.

Don’t have art supplies? No problem.

To help level the playing field, the $10 entry fee will pay for a required canvas size. The time to enter and get supplies is Feb. 1-15, and the deadline to turn in submissions is March 15. The art showing, silent auction and awards event will be 6 p.m. April 7.

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“We are so excited for this – it’s going to be the highlight of our year,” said Kristen Hawkins, co-owner of Elements. “We don’t want money to be a factor that keeps a kid from doing this event. We’ll have scholarships available. It’s going to be a real, judged show with age divisions, with significant prize money for the winners – but we want every kid to get something. If a kid needs supplies, or if they need to work on it here we have the space for them.”

Any child in the area – including (but not limited to) Avilla, Neosho, Carthage, Webb City, Oronogo and Joplin – can put their creativity to the test because the only limitation is that it needs to fit on the provided canvas. This fun, versatile and imaginative competition was inspired by a self-taught artist who could make beautiful creations with just about anything.

Susan “Sue” Harris passed away in July 2022, and her husband, Bill, couldn’t think of a better way to honor her memory and share art supplies that was Sue’s. They had known each other since 1998 and were married in 2006.

“When Sue started painting early in her life, it was more of a therapy,” Bill said. “She was a widow, raising three children. She had no advantages at all in this world, the odds were against her, and she still chose to get up every morning, work hard and learn something new and keep painting. Anyone else would have given up, or not seen the point in doing art – but she did.”

After Bill finished 21 years in the U.S. Air Force motor pool, he drove in the trucking industry. Sue joined him in 1998, and eventually the driving team grew to include two Chihuahuas, AJ and Max. Sue had built a career of 5M miles but after a bad fall on an icy sidewalk, her health drastically declined and she passed away in July last year.

Bill retired, and found himself going through their life’s accumulations and realized Sue was preparing for a retirement full of art-making. He collected the supplies and considered what to do with it … then one fateful day in August he ran into Hawkins. Literally.

“It was more than a stroke of luck that this happened,” Bill said. “At Walmart, our carts ran into each other in the aisle and we started talking – you know, embarrassed and how people do – I said I was in no hurry, no plans. I saw she had stuff for a party in her cart, and I said I wished I could go where she was going. She stopped, and said ‘actually you can.’”

Hawkins was preparing for her new art gallery opening, and invited Bill to come. An immediate bond was made between Bill and the artists at Elements. He approached them with the idea of a kids art competition, and donations of money and supplies for it, hoping the results would make this an annual event. Hawkins and her business partner, Cher Jiang, were all for it.

“I’ve been able to combine this idea of encouraging kids and remembering Sue,” Bill said. “I never would have been able to do this on my own. These ladies, this place – are something else. I have a heart for anyone going through things that aren’t their fault, or have hobbies that aren’t popular. If a kid is willing to stand up for what they love to do, I want to be able to encourage them and celebrate that attitude Sue had of never giving up.”

Elements Art Gallery and Studio is located at 2207 W. 7th St. Suite 8, Joplin. The gallery showcases a wide variety of artists both local and international, and hosts many kinds of workshops and events. Learn more about the gallery here.

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