An artist's touch earns recognition at U.S. Capitol

By Bill Althaus bill.althaus@examiner.net
The Examiner

Lily Letchworth grins at the memory of the first "piece of art" she created when she was a child.

Her mother was on the phone, visiting with a member of the PTA when young Lily decided to create something special.

"Let's see," said Letchworth, who is a winner of the 2021 Congressional Art Competition, where her oil painting of a Native American/modern day woman of Native American heritage will be displayed at the U.S. Capitol for a year, "my mom was on the phone, and she thought I was asleep."

Blue Springs High School art teacher Johnna Coleman, left, visits with senior Lily Letchworth, whose oil painting of a Native American woman and a modern-day woman of Native American heritage, will be placed on the walls of the United States Capitol, as it won the Congressional Art Competition from Rep. Emanuel's Cleaver's 5th District.

"I went into her craft room and found, oddly enough, a Blue Springs PTA flyer and I glued all kinds of shredded cutouts, ribbons and buttons on it. And she must have liked it, because she still has it in a scrapbook."

Today, her work is much more sophisticated, as the winning Congressional Art Competition portrait features an image of a Native American woman – one half from the 1800s and one half from modern times.

"I enjoy working with oil, although it takes quite a while to dry – but in some ways that is good because I can mix and blend the paint," Letchworth explained. "I started with the background, which turned out better than I expected. I put paint down with a palette knife and was disappointed because the background just turned muddy."

"So I scraped it all off, and the paint that remained on the canvas was just what I was looking for."

The piece was selected by Blue Springs art teacher Johnna Coleman, who still remembers seeing Letchworth's first submitted piece of art from her freshman Drawing I class.

"She turned in a drawing from her Drawing I class and I knew she was going to be special," Coleman said. "You can look at her portraits, her backgrounds – everything she does it top notch, and it was difficult to select a piece for the contest. Her attention to detail is just amazing."

Letchworth, who is also one of the premier volleyball setters in the metro area, is going to Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pa., to play volleyball and major in art.

"I know that one day I'm going to be watching the Oscars or the Emmys and the set is going to be designed by Lily," Coleman said, within earshot of her student. "I just want an invitation."

Letchworth giggled and nodded in agreement.

Design is something that Letchworth is excited about in the future. But now,  portrait work is her forte.

Her portrait fit within the guidelines of the congressional competition. The art must be:

• Two-dimensional.

• No larger than 26 inches wide by 26 inches tall by 4 inches thick including frame.

• Not weigh more than 15 pounds.

• It may be paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, collages, and computer art. (Painting media include acrylic, oil and water color.)

• Original in concept, design, and execution and may not violate any U.S. copyright law.

"I did not paint this piece for a competition. It was part of a series we did on American culture, and it really turned out well, I'm proud of it" said Letchworth, who titled the piece "Going Back to Tradition."

Blue Springs High School senior Lily Letchworth with her oil painting of a Native American woman and a modern-day woman of Native American heritage. She plans to go to college this fall on a volleyball scholarship and study art.

She will receive two round-trip tickets to Washington and be there when her art is placed on a wall in the Capitol.

"No time has been set, so I am not sure when I am going," Letchworth said, "but I may not need to fly if the ceremony is after I leave for college, because Shippensburg is just about an hour outside of Washington."

She paused for a moment, glanced at her painting, and others she had displayed in Coleman's classroom and simply said, "This is just so unbelievable. I owe Mrs. Coleman so much, because she has inspired me for four years."

"I can't even imagine how proud I am going to feel when they display my painting. I know I will feel proud, very proud."