U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady visited Spring High School on Tuesday to congratulate senior Ruth Hardy, whose painting “Before Nightfalls” was selected by the congressman’s office to represent Texas’ Eighth Congressional District as a winner of this year’s nationwide Congressional Art Competition.
“Ruth’s work just stood out among all the artwork we got,” Brady said during the visit. “It was just really special, and we’re going to be proud to hang it in the Capitol.”
Hardy’s winning piece will join others from across the country – each selected by members of the U.S. House of Representatives from student submissions in their home districts – to form a special gallery on display for the next year in the halls of the U.S. Capitol. The national high school visual art competition, launched in 1982 and sponsored by the Congressional Institute, has seen more than 650,000 student entries over the years, while only a few hundred winners are chosen from around the country each year.
Hardy and her family will also have an opportunity to travel later this year to Washington, D.C., tour the U.S. Capitol and visit the student gallery. Brady said that picking a top winner from each year’s student submissions was always a challenge for him and his staff, but that Hardy’s work was clearly special.
“Ruth’s work just stood out in so many ways, both the subject matter and the complexity of how she painted it, and it’s just a great piece of artwork,” Brady said. “We’re really thrilled to be able to honor her.”
While at the campus, the congressman also presented a congressional commendation to Spring High School art teacher Lizbeth Ramagnoli in recognition of her support and encouragement of students submitting work to the competition. Ramagnoli, herself a Carl Wunsche Sr. High School alumna now in her third year back in the district as a teacher, said that it was gratifying to get to pass on her own passion for art and to see students like Hardy succeed and be recognized, especially on the national stage.
“I’m just happy to be a part of it all, and I’m very proud of Ruth,” said Ramagnoli, who explained that Hardy’s choice to work in oil paints – requiring advanced technical skills and an abundance of patience – gives Hardy an expanded ability to blend a wide range of colors, enhance the vibrancy of her work, and create paintings that match her unique artistic visions.
“She does a lot of planning and a lot of research into what she’s going to create,” Ramagnoli said. “Whether she’s painting scenery, a part of history, or even something within her own family, there’s something meaningful about every single piece.”
Hardy has been studying and making art ever since she was a young student, after an elementary school teacher remarked to her parents that she had a talent. She says that part of her goal as an artist is to “represent the underrepresented,” to promote greater equity in the professional art world, and to give African Americans and other people of color a chance to see themselves and their stories reflected in her work. She credits her art teachers over the years with helping her see herself as an artist and encouraging her to believe in herself and her goals.
Hardy has been on a winning streak of late, earning awards in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards national competition, the Texas Art Education Association’s Visual Arts Scholastic Event, the Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts Student Art Contest, and the Spring ISD Rodeo Art Contest, where Hardy won the Best of Show award.
Her rodeo art contest entry, “The Chicken Whisperer,” was chosen for this year’s Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo School Art Auction – and went on to fetch a winning bid of $13,000 for Hardy to use toward college. Her tentative plan is to attend University of Houston, where she plans to continue studying art, expanding her professional portfolio, and exploring the possibility of becoming an art teacher.
“I still have a long way to go and a lot more to learn, but I’m happy for my growth so far, and my journey has just begun,” Hardy said. “I wish I had a time machine to see what I do in the future, but I guess I’ve just got to wait and see.”
Judging by the success she’s been having recently, Hardy’s future as an artist looks bright. She said winning the Congressional Art Competition, while a shock at first, gave her a renewed sense of excitement about what comes next in her artistic journey.
“I’m just honored that I won,” Hardy said. “There’s a lot of good artists here in Houston, and the fact that I was chosen just gives me a big confidence boost. It just makes me want to get better and better and better.”