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The City Journals

Art show attracts talented artists from around the valley

Nov 29, 2021 11:40AM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart

Brian Abel of Midvale won both the People’s Choice and Chairman’s Choice awards. (Sarah Morton Taggart/City Journals)

By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]

The Midvale Arts Council’s Art Show was held Nov. 6 and attracted talented individuals from around the valley. 

The normally annual show, which did not take place in 2020, is typically held during Harvest Days. 

“We had to separate this event from Hall of Honors because of COVID, and we probably had a third of the usual participation,” said Stephanie Johnson, treasurer of the council’s board of directors. “We didn’t want too many people in the building at one time. But it was nice to have the show upstairs this year, instead of in the basement.”

The show was held at the Midvale Performing Arts Center, 695 W. Center St., during the afternoon with awards announced that evening. Bree Morris, a local graphic designer, coordinated the judges and hung the art. 

The Best in Show ribbon went to Brian Abel for his painting, “resume.” The other painting he entered, “fallacy,” won the People’s Choice award, which was decided by votes from attendees of the show. 

Abel grew up in Midvale and moved back last year after a nine-year stint teaching art in San Diego, California. 

“I was lucky,” Abel said. “I had people in my life telling me to keep doing it. This is my first time doing art things since I’ve been back. It’s an honor.”

Abel asks friends to model for his stylized portraits. He says the messages in his paintings are autobiographical and tell stories about his life experiences and lessons. 

The Chairman’s Choice award, which was determined by members of the council’s board of directors, went to Stephen Hiatt, who also won first place in the Traditional Media-Drawing category. 

A team of judges determined the winners in the seven general categories: Children’s Art (ages 10 and under), Youth Art (ages 11-18), Traditional Media (Drawing and Painting), Three Dimensional Art, Heirloom Art and Digital Media. There is also a Special Needs category (art of any kind by all ages), but no art was submitted in that category this year. Each winner received a gift certificate to Michaels arts and craft store.

Walter Cifuentes of West Valley won first place in the Traditional Media-Painting category for his striking portrait of Pancho Villa, a general in the Mexican Revolution.

Cifuentes has been doing oil painting for seven years and enjoys using a vibrant pallet. 

“The colors give it life and texture,” Cifuentes said through a translator. “I like it to look like a painting, not to look as lifelike as a photo. The camera is for realism.”

Cifuentes applied many layers of paint to the portrait, each color with a different thickness. 

“You can enjoy it close up and far away,” Cifuentes said.

Kevin Richards of Midvale won second place in the Three Dimensional Art category for his wooden bowls. The wood for all of Richards’ bowls comes from within 20 miles of Midvale, including several pieces made from trees felled in September 2020’s devastating windstorm.

“Everything has a story, and trees don’t last forever,” Richards said. 

Durga Ekambaram of Sandy won third place in the Three Dimensional Art and Traditional Media-Drawing categories.

“Art is my true calling,” Ekambaram said. “I’m an engineer, but genetically I’m an artist.” Her mother is an artist in India, and Ekambaram herself has shown her art throughout the valley. She frequently uses a wide range of Indian themes and techniques in her art. 

Ekambaram’s daughter, Akshara Sudhakar, won first and second place in the children’s art category. Sudhakar also used a traditional Indian technique: crushed eggshells, glued to a board, then painted.

Another mother/daughter pair in the show was Heidi Darden and Kenzie Miller, both painters. 

Heidi Darden’s third place painting, “The Journey,” was inspired by her own life journey.

Darden has always painted, and taught the craft to her daughter at age seven. Darden survived a bad marriage for years before leaving her home state of Colorado.

“In 2017, we packed what we could fit in our car and never looked back,” Darden said. “We slowly started to buy a paint brush and a tube of paint here and there, slowly building up our supplies. We slowly started to paint again and now we do it about 10 hours a day. I do about 20 paintings a year and Kenzie does about the same.”

Darden and Miller, who was in high school when they came to Utah, both worked full time and were eventually able to secure an apartment in Lehi. They both worked at a hardware store before taking the leap to start their own house painting business, Two Girls n’ a Brush. 

Along with a new career, Darden has found romance. 

“We had lived here about a month when I ran into my high school crush from Colorado,” Darden said. “A year later we were married.”

Darden, Miller, and all of the artists featured in the show exemplify how art can elevate life, and anyone can do it. 

“Most of my neighbors have these cinderblock, two-car garages with studios inside,” Richards, the wooden bowl artist, said. “I wonder what they are doing in there?”


The full list of winners:

Children's Art (ages <10)

1. Akshara Sudhakar

2. Akshara Sudhakar

3. Anna Harman


Youth Art (1-18)

1. Audrey Schmachtenberg

2. Audrey Schmachtenberg

3. Chanlie Russell


Traditional Media - Painting

1. Walter Cifuentes

2. Lisa Owen

3. Heidi Darden


Traditional Media - Drawing

1. Stephen Hiatt

2. Walter Cifuentes

3. Durga Ekambaram


Three Dimensional Art

1. Daniel Harman

2. Kevin Richards

3. Durga Ekambaram


Heirloom Art

1. Janci Lawes


Digital Media

1. Wendy Dewey


Chairman's Choice

1. Stephen Hiatt


Best in Show

1. Brian Abel


People's Choice

1. Brian Abel