A painting exhibition at the United States Capitol crowns a meaningful personal project for a visual arts student


Hilleary Wray’s painting “Innocence” is currently on display at the United States Capitol, winner of the annual Congressional Art Competition for District 10 in North Carolina.

The high school student in the visual arts program submitted the painting – which depicts the porch of her grandparents’ family home in Maiden, North Carolina – last spring in a bid to build her portfolio and expand its reach as an artist. And she was thrilled to learn that a piece that meant so much to her and her family had been chosen by Rep. Patrick McHenry’s office to represent the National Capital District.

The painting will be on display at the Capitol until August 2022 (it was installed in August 2021), reflecting Wray’s time at UNCSA and her transition from high school to college, where she intends to study l ‘architecture. And she will have used this transition time to the fullest, discovering new mediums and exploring her work as an artist before taking the next big step.

Wray’s painting from the porch of his grandparents’ home in Maiden, North Carolina is on display at the United States Capitol until August 2022

Congress Art Competition

As a high school senior in the spring of 2021, Wray attended Discovery High, a full honors high school in Newton-Conover, North Carolina. she says. She was taking art classes at the public high school across the street, working on putting together her portfolio to apply for UNCSA.

“I knew I wanted to go to UNCSA, and I wanted to start looking for scholarships, art competitions, galleries — ways to get my art out there,” she says. His art teacher told him about the Congress Art Competition and she prepared the play and its submission within two weeks in May.

The annual competition, sponsored by the Congressional Institute, is held each spring to recognize and encourage artistic talent across the country and in each congressional district. Students submit their entries to their representative’s office, and the winning works are displayed for a year at the United States Capitol.

Wray learned in August, just as she was starting classes at UNCSA, that her play had been selected and would go to Washington, D.C. In a video call with McHenry, he congratulated her and said the painting reminded him of his own grandparents’ house.

A piece of home

Wray’s piece, titled “Innocence,” is a painting of the porch of the house where his grandparents (and his own family) lived for most of his childhood. It has deep meaning for all of his family, especially in recent years.

“My grandparents owned a house in Maiden that I grew up in. I was in that house from kindergarten through fifth grade. Even when we moved out we would go back there all the time. We would go on vacation and played with my cousins.”

She started painting in 2019 and around this time her grandfather had a stroke and was diagnosed with diabetes. The large house and the land that accompanies it have become too heavy for his grandparents to maintain.

…it seemed like the perfect opportunity to paint something for them because the house meant so much to my family.

Hillary Wray

“They decided to sell the house,” she says. “I had just started a room, but it seemed like the perfect opportunity to paint something for them, because the house meant so much to my family.”

She gave the painting to her grandmother during the family’s last walk through the house. “I remember walking in and being really upset that we were leaving, but also feeling dizzy because I had a big surprise for her,” she says. “When they moved into their new house, she found an empty wall in the dining room and put it right in the middle of the wall. As soon as you walked in, that was the first thing you saw in the room. new house.”

From academics to art

Submitting his painting to the Congressional Art Competition was part of a larger plan by Wray to explore his art in greater depth before beginning his architectural studies in college. At Discovery High, she had taken numerous AP classes and had double-enrolled in college classes at the local community college. For her senior year, she wanted to balance this academic motivation with more focused art classes.

“I’ve always been motivated by studies, but I’ve always done art as well,” she says. “When I was little, I took dance lessons, I did theater for five or six years and I started painting in sixth grade. After about two years of painting, I started giving classes at Brush Strokes Studio,” she says. “I spent a lot of time there and started to orient myself more towards art.”

She decided to complete some of her AP classes at Discovery, with the goal of applying to UNCSA for her senior year.

“I’ve been determined to study architecture for the past three or four years, and I saw applying to UNCSA as an opportunity to get my portfolio under my belt and further develop my craft.”

Explore other art forms

Before coming to UNCSA, Wray says she was always encouraged to pursue the type of art that most interested her. “And of course it was the painting,” she says. “I was really into this medium.”

“When I got here, I didn’t know until I got here that I was going to take sculpting lessons,” she laughs. “Given that I’ve only worked in two-dimensional art all my life, I was a bit taken aback. Sculpting was probably one of the hardest classes.”

But she sees the value in taking up the challenge. In fact, one of her favorite projects this year was a sculpting project during arts intensive.

For visual arts students, the two-week period was divided into a sculpting week and a design week, with the subject matter of the project centering on a time when artists were not themselves. Working with partners, the students spent the first week creating a wearable sculpture. During the second week, they had to create an environment for this sculpture.

Along with her partner, Haven Lee, the two decided to base their pieces on how their personalities evolved around different people and were influenced by those people.

Wray and Lee with their portable sculptures

Wray (left) and Lee with their Intensive Arts project of wearable sculptures. / Instagram photo: @uncsa.visualarts

“For our wearable sculpture, we created these hands that completely devoured us,” Wray explains. Working with everything from gloves and plastic bags to heat guns and papier-mâché, the two created their pieces.

She was proud, she says, of the final pieces, the result of their creative spirit and imagination. And, her experience working with sculpture will come in handy at architecture school next year.

Wray hasn’t decided on a college yet, but knows she wants her work to focus on residential design and sustainability. “I always wanted to be able to use my talent to make an impact,” she says. “I really want to channel the work into safer and better homes for the environment.”

And she says UNCSA has been a great stepping stone to where she wants to go. “I really like having access to the studios and being able to mingle with the different artistic disciplines,” she says. “I also like the freedom it gives me. I’m very organized and coming here, because I have that ability, I feel like I can go a lot further.”

by Corrine Luthy

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