In March 2022, Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal member and Piedmont High School junior Shelby Grove opened a letter from Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. It congratulated her on winning a 2022 State Superintendent Awards for Arts Excellence in Visual Arts, collaborating with the Oklahoma Alliance for Arts Education and the Masonic Fraternity of Oklahoma.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, there’s no way this is real,’” Grove said.

The Combs family descendant applied for it with encouragement from her art teacher, who saw her talent in class and began suggesting contests for her to enter. Grove anticipated stiff competition.

“I just thought it’d be really cool to have my hard work, my art, be recognized for something, to have somebody else be like, ‘Wow, this is really great.’ Just to get the recognition for something that I made,” she said. “I thought there was no way that I was going to get in because there were so many talented people who submitted artwork. … Even the people who also won with me, theirs were so amazing. And just hearing that I won was unbelievable.”

Grove received a medal at an awards ceremony in April 2022 at the Guthrie Scottish Rite Masonic Temple in Guthrie, Oklahoma, along with other high schoolers from across the state in recognition of their abilities in drama and theatre, dance, visual art, and instrumental and vocal music. In addition to her love of art, Grove is a member of the National Honor Society at Piedmont High School.

Grove always enjoyed art in elementary and middle school and participated in classes as much as possible. However, when she reached high school and the coronavirus pandemic forced students into virtual learning, she decided to take more academically advanced courses. Grove looked forward to returning to the regular classroom full-time her junior year and took the opportunity to return to the art she missed.

“It’s always been a way for me to take my mind off things and be able to just relax and focus on something that I really enjoy and doesn’t take too hard of thought to come up with. … But getting back into it really helps me calm my thoughts and put things into art, put my feelings into artwork,” she said.

Grove started drawing more, and it felt like she was thriving with her focus on pencil sketches. She rarely branched out to work with other mediums, but the piece she picked to enter the contest was a drawing using black charcoal and white colored pencils.

“It was fun,” Grove said. “It was really messy because charcoal gets everywhere, but it was really fun.”

She said it was hard to choose only one piece she had made this year for the judges. The one she picked, titled Tools, is more realistic than the blended, seamless style of her other work; Grove created it for an assignment to improve her highlighting and shading abilities.

“I did a bunch of scattered tools and shaded them in really dark to make them look realistic. And it was also working on our collage abilities by taking like newspapers and gluing them to the back. So, it looked like these tools were scattered across a bunch of newspapers,” Grove said.

She uses her art to express her feelings during the moment of creation. For Tools, Grove wanted to show how the radical changes throughout the last few years of the pandemic affected her.

“Kind of a lot was going on at the time, and so I just felt like it should be chaotic, and I wanted it to be super dark, dark colors and super light, light contrasts,” she said. “And I wanted the words everywhere. And I just wanted it to be chaotic and different.”

Grove attended the awards ceremony with her mother, father, grandmother, sisters and art teacher. Recipients in the performing arts showed off their skills, and those in visual arts had their work displayed in the lobby. Hofmeister presented medals to everyone, one by one.

“Then you could go up and talk to Joy afterward whenever we were all dismissed and finished and get pictures with her. And that was so cool,” Grove said. “She was so nice. She was so sweet. Just telling everyone, ‘Congratulations. Good job.’”

The medal now hangs in a special place at home, and it helped Grove believe in her art and see its potential.

“Before you’re just like, ‘Oh, yeah, I doodle every now and then.’ But then whenever you actually win something, it’s like, ‘Wow. Obviously, my art is improving, and it’s becoming good enough to be accepted into winning an award.’ It made me feel really good about my artwork,” she said.

While she is not eligible for this award again, Grove hopes to enter more contests her senior year and keep creating. She wants to expand her style and include more colors and mediums to improve her skill set. That desire comes from the support of those around her.

“I just want everyone to know how grateful I am,” Grove said. “Like my art teacher for encouraging me, and all the friends and family who wrote recommendations for me to (enter the contest). And my family for always supporting my art. I just want to say how grateful I am to everyone.”

Read more about the 2022 State Superintendent’s Awards for Arts Excellence at