About two years ago, 17-year-old Manchester resident Riley McCarthy watched her mother undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatments for breast cancer.
In McCarthy’s struggle to cope, she found a therapeutic remedy in her Nikon D3000 camera, and was able to express her emotions through photography.
Today her photography is a passion that has made her the grand-prize winner of the 6th Congressional District High School Art Competition and Exhibition at Montserrat College.
“I kind of, for a second, forgot I entered,” McCarthy said. “My teacher e-mailed me and said ‘Today is your day’ because I had just finished a film I was working on and then she said, ‘By the way, you’re the grand-prize winner for the congressional competition,’ and I was so excited.”
The exhibition is a juried art show, open to all high school students in their sophomore, junior, or senior year. Home-schooled students are encouraged to participate as well.
US Representative John F. Tierney served as honorary chairman of the presentation event on March 9 for the award, which is in its 19th year.
In addition to various scholarship funds, the artwork of the grand-prize winner will be sent to the US Capitol in Washington D.C. where it will be displayed for one year with the work of other award winners from across the country. McCarthy, along with many of her family members, will attend the opening of that exhibition in June.
“It’s terrific,” said Stephen D. Immerman, president of Montserrat College. “This is about individuals, a lot of whom understand the world through visual arts. What we’re doing here is we’re celebrating, we’re reinforcing, we are hopefully catalyzing some people’s interest in pursuing art and design as a life and a career.”
McCarthy, a Manchester-Essex Regional High School senior, won the grand prize for her piece entitled ‘Lost,’ which is an overlay photograph of her 12-year-old sister Molly appearing to be lost in the wooded area behind their home. Image overlay allows a photographer to combine multiple images to form a new one.
McCarthy’s piece was one of 97 in this year’s collection. One home-schooled student and students from 23 high schools participated, including students from Marblehead High School, Amesbury High School, and Peabody Veterans Memorial High School.
The other award winners will receive varying amounts of scholarship money to Montserrat’s pre-college summer program and the US Postal Service will allow students to have their work displayed at their local post office.
Keval McNamara, McCarthy’s mother, was bubbling with enthusiasm at her daughter’s award. “Oh my gosh I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud. I was really, really excited,” she said “We got on the phone and called everybody.”
McNamara, who said she is now cancer-free, said that her parents are going to fly to Washington from California for the opening of the exhibition. McNamara’s mother is an artist and “has been in tears for days.”
“She’s been in juried shows — her whole life has been art,” McNamara said. “She has really encouraged art — there’s seven kids in our family — for all of us, and then for the grand kids. It’s going to be surreal going to DC.”
Tierney, who is in his 17th year serving as the honorary chairman of the art competition, said that the event can prepare students for jobs in the creative field.
“We have so many good artists in this area, so many creative kids and not just at Montserrat but at all the schools,” Tierney said. “Any time you have a chance to give any student an opportunity, whatever they have to offer, to display it and to give them some confidence and encouragement, it just means a lot to me to be in a position to be able to do that.”
McCarthy said she is hoping to attend Fairfield University in Connecticut in the fall and major in cinematography with a minor in photography. She’s not quite sure what she wants to do when she’s older, but she knows it will involve her passion for visual storytelling.
“An ideal job is waking up every morning, being behind the camera and doing what I love,” McCarthy said. “Just taking pictures and making a story out of it.”