El Campo High School senior Aubree Matthews and sophomore Riley Respondek had the rare opportunity of participating in a four-week study of art this summer. Exhibiting their art at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo earlier this year, they were nominated by their teacher Megan McDonald and invited by the HLSR to apply to attend the Western Art Academy in Kerrville.

“The students that participated in the Houston Rodeo Art that placed as a finalist or higher with their school art piece, received an invitation in January to apply for the Western Art Academy. It sounded very interesting,” Matthews said. So I thought, why not apply?”

Matthews’ rodeo art entry was an oil pastel painting of a lady holding a calf that the woman had rescued during Hurricane Harvey called “In the Wake of the Storm.” It was an award of excellence finalist.

“This was from a photo that my uncle took when people in his area were trying to move their cattle to higher ground,” she said. “Because I was a finalist, this gave me the opportunity to be invited to apply for the Western Art Academy.”

Respondek’s rodeo art piece was an acrylic on canvas.

“It was based on a picture of a little girl, my little brother’s friend’s little sister,” she said. “She was sitting on a fence, dressed up in her western clothes, just being adorable in general. Her name is Galli, so I titled the piece “Miss Galli - Sitting Pretty.”

Respondek was also a finalist, so she was invited to apply as well.

“I genuinely didn’t expect my application to be considered, because I was only a freshman, and my work had just made the minimum requirement to qualify, but the scholarship was such an amazing opportunity that I basically had to at least make an attempt, and I’m glad I did,” Respondek said.

Their art instructor not only endorsed the girls for the academy, she encouraged them to apply for what would be a unique experience, with one-on-one instruction from art professionals.

“I’m sure El Campo students have attended Western Art Academy before, but in the six years I’ve been here, these are the first two to attend,” McDonald said. “When I recommended Aubree, I told them that she would really help other students come out of their shell. It turns out Aubree really enjoyed oil painting and she is requested to do her rodeo art project in oil this year. Yay!

And I can see the benefits of the program in Riley already. She’s shown me work in her sketchbook that she did at the WAA. There are lots of thumbnail sketches and figure sketches showing a lot of growth. Her oil painting was just phenomenal as well. Both of the girls really surprised me with their sculpture work. Overall I’m very proud of them and I’m so happy they got to go.”

After the application process, 153 were chosen to participate in the interview process. In the end, only 48 were accepted.

“The interview took place at NRG the beginning of February,” Matthews said. “You had to bring example pieces of your art work that you had done in your high school art class. They ranked you from 1-10 in different categories of the interview.”

Respondek, who indicated in her application that she wanted to work in animation, wasn’t really prepared for the interview process.

“A huge part of the interview portion was having a good portfolio and presentable sketchbook, which I was not prepared for in the slightest,” she said. “I ended up throwing together some pieces I’d already done into a portfolio the day before, as well as attempting to fill up a sketchbook in the days before the interview. In the end, I was still really happy with what I put in my portfolio, and I assume it was adequate, because I made it in.”

Attending the academy was at no expense to the girls, except for transportation there and back home, thanks to the HLSR.

The award is presented to outstanding students in the ninth through 12th grade who participated in the Rodeo’s School Art Program. Classes were held six days a week, Monday through Saturday, on the campus of Schreiner University.

Matthews and Respondek studied sculpture and oil painting with a Western heritage focus while also taking advantage of field trips to histortic sites for study. By applying the classical principles of art and design, they worked inside the studio as well as outside, using nature and wildlife in a Texas Hill Country setting as subjects for their projects, including everything from working cowboys and their horses, to longhorns, Native Americans, Hispanic settlers and more.

“We were mentored by four amazing professional artists during the four weeks we were there,” Matthews said.

Two weeks was spent on sculpting and the other two on producing two oil paintings.

“A lot of us had never sculpted before, so it was a new experience,” Matthews said. “I had also never oil painted before, most of my experience is in using charcoal and water color mediums. But with the help from the amazing instructors, I now have two new skills to use.”

For Respondek, sculpting and oil painting were both new mediums.

“Before WAA, I hadn’t even tried working in oil painting or any dedicated sculpture, so both of the mediums we focused on were really new to me,” Respondek said. “I had also never worked in a true studio environment, so that was also a new experience.”

Respondek enjoyed sculpting over oil painting because it allowed her to be more creative.

“I preferred the sculpture portion of the study because of the creative freedom that comes with it, rather than working from a picture to do a painting, which is also really fun,” she said.

At the end of the program, each student’s sculpture and oil paintings went up for bid in a silent auction attended by those who are associated with the Houston Rodeo Art program.

Respondek’s pieces did not sell in the auction, but Matthews two oil paintings, a rooster and a lamb, both sold in the silent auction.

The girls earned three semesters hours of fine arts college credit for completing the course with a passing grade.

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