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Avery wins 2011 Congressional Art Competition

Date: 6/1/2011

June 1, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

AGAWAM — For Agawam High School senior Brandon Avery, an avocation has become a path to national recognition.

On May 16, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal visited Agawam High School to meet Avery and present him with a plaque recognizing him as this year's Congressional Art Competition first place winner for Massachusetts' Second Congressional District.

According to Neal's Western Massachusetts office spokesperson, Jeanne Ahern, Avery's submission — a charcoal drawing of two elephants with their trunks around each other — was selected from 100 local submissions. It will hang in the much-traveled Cannon Tunnel connecting the U.S. Capitol to the Cannon Office Building through June 2012, alongside the winning entries from participating congressional districts across the country.

"I'm really excited," Avery, who readily admits to "drawing and doodling" since he was very young, told Reminder Publications. "It's a really great honor."

He added that the year-long exhibition was a "great opportunity to get my name out there" as an artist. He also said he appreciated Neal promoting the arts.

"He was saying how everyone showcases sports; this was an opportunity to showcase the arts," Avery noted.

Founded in 1982, the Congressional Art Competition offers high school students from congressional districts across the country the opportunity to compete annually for the gallery honor. In 2010, 400 members of the House of Representatives had students participating in the contest.

Joining Neal at the presentation were Mayor Richard Cohen, State Rep. Nicholas Boldyga, Agawam School Superintendent Dr. Mary Czajkowski and Agawam High School Principal Steven Lemanski, Avery's parents Mary and Paul, his grandmother Joan McMahon and two of the local judges responsible for selecting Avery's piece.

"We're bursting with pride," Mary Avery, a secretary at the Roberta G. Doering School, said. "It's such an honor and experience for all of us."

Avery, who this year is splitting his time between core classes at Agawam High School and carpentry classes at the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative in West Springfield, said it was Don Blanton, an instructor at the Distinctive Art Studio in Springfield where he is taking private lessons, who encouraged him to submit a piece to the competition.

"I really appreciate that my art teacher pushed me to enter," Avery said.

The graduating senior said he isn't certain if he will make art his career choice, but that he knows art will always be a part of his life.

"I think he would like to [make it a career]," Debora Florek, an Agawam High School visual arts teacher who has worked with Avery, said. "I think this will give him the incentive ... [showing him] this is your expertise, your talent and your passion."

As a final honor, Avery and his father, Paul, will travel to Washington, D.C., on June 22 for an official artists reception and tour of the Capitol.

"Once all the artwork is hanging we'll go back as a family," Mary said. "Congressman Neal said the winner went last year. '[He said] you're just awestruck when you see the artwork from all the winners.' We have to see that."

Debbie Gardner can be reached by e-mail at

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