Visual artist Joyce J. Scott and writer Jen Grow are the major winners of the 2016 Baker Artist Awards, announced Thursday night on Maryland Public Television.
Scott, especially known for distinctive beaded sculptures that confront issues of racism and stereotyping, is the recipient of the $50,000 Mary Sawyers Imboden Prize, the newly established top award. It is one of the largest awards given to an individual artist in Maryland, one of the largest awards of its kind in the country.
The $20,000 Mary Sawyers Baker Prize, also new this year, was awarded to Grow, author of "My Life as a Mermaid," a collection of short stories about contemporary American lives and longings.
"I'm very honored to be the first to get the 50 grand," said the Baltimore-born and -based Scott, 67, "and to get it for my body of work."
The Baker Artist Awards, established in 2009 by the William G. Baker Jr. Memorial Fund and administered under the auspices of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, is open to artists from any discipline — visual art, music, film, etc. — living in Baltimore City or its five surrounding counties.
Until 2016, three $25,000 prizes were awarded, along with three $5,000 grants. The smaller awards remain. The $5,000 award winners this year are dancer, choreographer, director and designer Naoko Maeshiba; filmmaker Matt Porterfield; and painter Bill Schmidt.
To be considered for an award, artists submit online portfolios of their work. An anonymous jury makes the selections.
Scott's submissions, stretching back decades, included figurines in glass or ceramic, jewelry, wall hangings and more. Most of the items speak to social, political and gender issues, often with wry humor.
"I put everything into my portfolio," Scott said with a laugh, "including a picture of me in utero and me having sex with a Kardashian so I could get the bloody money."
The main item in Grow's portfolio was a story, "What Girls Leave Behind," the sobering reflections of an alcoholic woman, from her book of short stories, "My Life as a Mermaid."
Winners were notified in March, but had to keep the news to themselves until Thursday.
"It was a tough secret to hold in for two months," said Grow, who is fiction editor of the Little Patuxent Review, an arts and literature journal. "I almost blurted it out several times."
That waiting period did give the author time to envision ways of using her award money.
"I'm going to pay off a few bills and also spend it to go on writing retreats," said Grow, 49, who grew up in Freeland and moved to Baltimore 20 years ago. "There's the draft of a novel I want to pick up and dust off. I'm also working on stories for a new collection and an essay for an exhibit next January at Stevenson University that will include my writing and some photographs."
Scott also has begun to make plans for using her prize money.
"I'm going to do some things to make my everyday life in the studio and at home a little easier," she said. "And I'll be able to travel more. If I suddenly want to go off and work with a glassmaker, I can do it. I'm always trying to fulfill the aesthetic hunger I have, the thirst."