A little background ...

Each year, the Albany Museum of Art selects artworks from current exhibitions to serve as inspiration for essays in an annual writing contest, A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words.

The contest has two divisions — high school and college — and is open to students from southwest Georgia and those from outside the region who are attending southwest Georgia schools, colleges and universities. Essays submitted by deadline are judged by a panel. The top three essayists in each division receive cash awards for their work.

The top three essayists in the high school were first place, Aleesa Kruse, Lee County High School; second place, Sophia Cardino, Sherwood Christian Academy; and third place, Clara Lee, Terrell Academy.

The top three essayists in the college division were first place, Tasmyn McCauley, Georgia Southwestern State University; second place, Darnell Chen, Albany State University; and third place, and third place, Alexis Conley, GSW.

This year, essayists were asked to write about any one of seven selected artworks from three exhibitions that are on view at the AMA through Dec 23:

“From European Splendors: Old Master Paintings from the Kress Collection,” “Still Life” by Pieter Claesz, “A Bacchanal” by Giulio Carpioni, “Virgin and Christ Child” by Francesco Francia, and “Pulcinella Singing with his Many Children” by Alessandro Magnasco;

From “Horse Power,” “Jockey Cigars” and “Saltville Virginia,” both by Cedric Smith;

From “Essay Topic: Write Down the Word WOMAN One Hundred Times!,” the artwork by Sanaz Haghani that shares its title with the exhibition.

Each participating student could write a factual or fictional essay or poem of up to 1,000 words that was inspired in some way by one of the selected artworks. The winning essayists were recognized in an awards ceremony on Oct. 14 at the Albany Museum of Art.

The winners ...

First Place

Aleesa Kruse, Lee County High School

Inspired by “Still Life” by Pieter Claesz

“The Feast”

Arnold, a heavyset and grimy man, harrumphed while he waited for his wife, Ivette, to finish pouring his wine. Ivette’s hands shook as she topped off his glass and then kneeled beside him. She did this every night at mealtime, hoping for some change in her husband’s heart.

Ivette’s face was ghostly in the dark, candle-lit dining room. Her skin clung to her fragile bones desperately. Her once luscious hair was now thin and falling out in clumps. Arnold had been starving her for the past five months.

“May I feast with you tonight, sir?” Ivette begged.

Arnold let out a heavy sigh and then dipped his fingers in the bowl of soup in front of him. He then proceeded to slurp the thick soup off of each of his fingers.

“I am starving. Please? I won’t take much I swear on it,” Ivette clasped her hands together in a prayer formation while she pleaded.

Arnold could feel her eyes on him, but he refused to look at her. Her corpse-like appearance disgusted him; he wished she would have stayed beautiful. “You feast with me when you bear me a son.”

“I am too weak to bear you a child, Arnold. Please?” Ivette knew her pleas meant nothing. She used to fear begging him to allow her to have a meal, but now it was like rehearsing lines from a play.

“You will have my leftovers. You know I love you, Ivette,” Arnold then shoved a giant piece of pork into his mouth, completely disregarding the silverware set out.

This was the end of the conversation. Ivette never got farther than this. She mustered the strength to stand up, then went and stood against the wall. She watched Arnold eat like a pig over his feast, and it truly was a feast. Arnold never settled for a normal proportioned dinner, he always wanted the most. “A small meal is a poor man’s meal, Ivette. And I am no poor man,” he would say.

After Arnold finished, the table was a disaster. It looked like a wild pack of hounds went at it instead of a single man. Arnold stood up, knocking over the nearly empty bowl of soup. It saddened Ivette to see the soup spill. “Tell Ruth to prepare the table more neatly, this is a disgusting mess!” he commanded, then he waddled out of the room.

Ivette hurried to take her seat at the table, carefully placing whatever scraps she could find onto her plate. Although she was starved, she still had immaculate table manners. The only untouched food was the steamed carrots. Ruth prepared those for Ivette. Ruth quietly entered the dining room and sat beside Ivette.

“He is a horrible man,” Ruth said quietly, folding her hands on the table. Ivette didn’t acknowledge her. “You’re dying, Ivy. I see it.”

Ivette nodded.

“After you, there will be another wife. Then after her, another. He is a great manipulator, he’ll get any woman he wants and he’ll kill her, too!” Ivette now stared at Ruth. Ruth quickly grabbed Ivette’s hands, “I want to kill him. Better he dies than you, or any more young women! But I can’t! God would not forgive me! But God would forgive you. He’d forgive a woman like you!”

“Ruth!” Ivette gasped, horrified, “Don’t say that!”

Ruth reached into her apron and produced a small black vial. She placed it in front of Ivette. Ivette stared at the ominous little bottle.

“God forgives women like you,” Ruth whispered. She then left the room. Ivette watched the black vial while she finished her meal. She was afraid of it, or perhaps afraid of what she could do with it. She took her last bite then, on impulse, grasped the vial. She held it as tight as she could, worried about it falling from her bony fingers.

Ivette had moved like a statue all day. Her eyes were blank and lifeless. She entered the kitchen at mealtime and pulled their best wine out. Ruth was preparing a large crab. Carefully Ivette pulled the top off the wine bottle and pulled the black vial out from her dress. Slowly she removed the lid off the vial and poured it into the bottle of wine. Ivette then dropped to her knees.

“Oh, God! Please forgive me!” Ivette wailed, tears streaming down her face, “I am good! I have reasons!”

Ruth rushed to her side. “Compose yourself, Ivette! It’s time for supper.”

Arnold sat impatiently at the head of the table. Ruth carried out the large feast, the centerpiece a king crab. Arnold licked his lips. Ivette followed Ruth out with the bottle of wine in hand. Her tears had dried and her face was stone cold again.

“What is the occasion, my dear?” Arnold asked, eyeing the bottle of wine. “That was my father’s finest wine.”

Ivette forced a smile, “It’s our anniversary, dear. Don’t you remember?”

Arnold shrugged. He couldn’t remember the date he married Ivette. It was a very unimportant occasion to him, just another day he wanted to get over with. Ivette did, however, remember the date very well, August 12th, seven months from now. She walked to Arnold’s side and carefully poured the wine. She then went back and stood against the wall. Arnold was skeptical that she didn’t start begging for supper tonight. He ignored it, perhaps she had finally accepted what she had to do to be allowed to feast. Arnold then turned to the meal set before him and picked up his wine. He took two large gulps before pulling the entire crab onto his plate.

Ivette watched him as he ate. Waiting for something to happen. Then, suddenly, Arnold stopped eating. Ivette’s jaw dropped as Arnold slumped over in his chair. Ivette let out a scream, not of horror, but relief. She was free. Slowly she moved to the table, watching for movement in Arnold. Then when he didn’t move, she loaded her plate, crying tears of joy. Tonight, Ivette would feast.

2nd Place

Sophia Scardino, Sherwood Christian Academy

Artwork: “Still Life” by Pieter Claesz

Untitled Essay

Lord Kenric held a feast only once a year, on his birthday. It was always a majestic affair, full of music and dancing. And food, oh the food! What delectable things there were! Pies and pastries everywhere you looked; many tables held wild game and fruits I had never heard of. Everything was placed on plates with such care. Each maid watched to make sure no slab of boar or drip of sauce covered the gold emblems on the silver plates so as not to anger my lord. For he watched us, oh so closely, making sure everything was done just so. (Making sure no one snuck a taste of the delicious spread, more like! That is how I saw it, at least.) My, how I wanted only to let one berry pass my lips. Then I would, at last, be satisfied. But no, I didn’t even dare lift my hand to my mouth to taste the sauce on my fingers. Lord Kenric saw everything!

Soon enough, the preparations were over and the guests began to arrive. All came in exquisite carriages with satin-padded seats and gold engravings on the sides. And the nobles! Each woman was in a floral-patterned gown with lace and silver embroidery. The men dressed in silk vests and flowing cloaks. It was quite the sight to behold! Soon I was pulled away from my vantage point and put back in the kitchen to continue my work. Oh, how I longed to keep watching the beautiful procession so fair and fine, but I must be content with my job in the castle, for not many are as lucky as I. The fact that I was even picked to be a kitchen maid was God’s doing.

However, on this wondrous night, I would not serve in the kitchen; I would serve in the hall! Since Ellen had fallen ill and was taken to bed, one more attendant was needed. I rushed out of my dirty clothes and into a white frock and a clean lace apron reserved for such occasions. As my feet quickened in pace, my heart pounded with excitement. Finally, I arrived in the huge hall with marble floors, long crimson draperies, and an enormous golden chandelier. Spread across the floor were 20 or so small tables. Each one piled high with its own magnificent feast. I was assigned a table with four nobles already seated. My job was to attend to their every whim.

Once everyone was comfortable, the entertainment began. As always, it was Lord Kenric’s wife, Lady Aldreda. She would use her beautiful voice to wish her husband a prosperous year. As Lady Aldreda sang to her guests, I looked upon the table at the food. Set out before each of them was a huge bright red crab, dripping with sauce. Several bowls of cranberries and nuts sat around each crab, and a plate of buttered potato cakes stood to the side, everything seasoned to perfection. On each noble’s plate sat the first course, a bowl of irresistible, aromatic soup. I tried hard to lock away pictures of the food in my memory. I would likely not see something so magnificent again. But eat it I could not, for there were many nobles and all had to have a share of the feast.

Soon my lady finished her song, and all were ready to continue with the festivities. Kind words were said of Lord Kenric, and a toast was given to his well-being. Eventually, the party was gathered into the ballroom where they danced the night away. Since all the guests had finished their meals, it was now time for me to get back to work and clean the hall before my lord saw the mess. As I made my way back, I imagined how full their bellies must be after such a mighty meal, but my thoughts were lost when I set eyes upon my table.

It was not until then that I saw the nobles’ plates. They were not scraped clean of every delicious morsel. No, they were full! For hours we had worked, nay, for days, to prepare the food, to make it just right. And for what reason? Was all our work in vain? The guests had barely touched the food. The nobles who had come from far and wide in majestic carriages and fancy clothes, who were said to be the most honorable people in the land, had piled their plates with every desirable thing on the table but barely touched the food. That same food I had longed for and struggled to withdraw from so they could eat. So they could eat! Anger welled up in my once grateful heart. I had been starving all of my life, disregarded and deprived. This party was the most important thing that ever happened to me! And yet there was food left on their plates. Food I would never taste. How could they be so unthankful, so ungrateful? How could they call themselves noble when their gluttony led to the starvation of others?

As I stood there, my temper fighting wars in my head, I remembered Luke, the great saint, when he said that life is more than clothes and food. Why was no one grateful for the food given to them? Then something from deep within reminded me of the bowl of porridge I had awakened to that morning and the afternoon meal I had filled myself with before the feast began. In place of the strife in my heart, there arose a feeling of thankfulness. I may not have had a feast but I had all I needed, more than enough. Just as these thoughts passed through my head, Lord Kenric came through the doors and said, “Now my servants, you may feast.” What a gracious God I serve, who blesses the undeserving!

Third Place

Clara Lee, Terrell Academy

Inspired by “Still Life” by Pieter Claesz

“The Fascinating Feast”

It was the night of the annual Christmas dinner. I did not want to attend, as always. My father forced me to attend stiff dinners and parties such as these constantly. Growing up as a princess, I felt out of place and I still do. The eight-hour school lessons taught by my tutor were mentally draining, and I had no friends to trust. My family was more of a business than a family unit. My mom cared about herself solely and left me to think for myself from age 5. My dad cared about praise from the press and nothing else. However, I still found myself longing to impress him. Our family was never about caring for one another. I longed for a sibling to experience these feelings with, but my parents never had other children. The only place I have ever felt truly at home was at the stables behind our five-story, stone castle.

Fast forward 12 years. I feel the same way that I did as a 5-year-old. While feeding Magnolia, my favorite horse, my father came to remind me of the Christmas dinner at six o’clock sharp. I did not know how I would forget. The entire staff had been preparing for the dinner since seven o’clock this morning. Grudgingly, I told him I would be there, even though we both knew I had no other choice.

At 5:45, I walked into the expansive, marble-covered foyer of the palace. My dad scolded me for not arriving 30 minutes before the guests, even though I thought I was doing marvelous by coming 15 minutes early. I nodded and apologized to him. My father is one of the most ungrateful people I know, so conversations like these were familiar to me.

The ritzy guests who were only there to impress, not to enjoy their time, arrived with their eyes gleaming at the palace. If only they knew what happened in these walls. Eventually, everybody made their way into the dining room. In the room sat a table that ran down the long room and could easily seat 80 guests. Loads of turkey, drinks, and vegetables lined the entire table. The meal looked delicious, and I could tell the chefs put their hard work and time into creating the food. Three crystal chandeliers lit up the dark wooden walls with intricate molding. I sat at a table and simply watched awkward people and eavesdropped on conversations. I did this for about 20 minutes, but then something caught my attention. I could hear my name mentioned in one of the conversations. I turned around to see my father and his closest friend, Edgar, talking.

“Why does Anne not engage in any conversation at events?” asked Edgar.

“I do not know. Anne disappoints me with her attitude, and all she cares about are the unintelligent horses I got for decoration behind the house,” my father responded.

I was furious, I felt my hands become sweaty and my cheeks redden to the shade of my mother’s crimson dress. I frantically walked toward my father. I tripped over my own feet due to my anger. I approached him to do what I had wanted to do my whole life.

I exclaimed, “Do you think it’s easy to be your daughter and trying to live up to your expectations? Every day, I dread hearing your ridicules!”

My father looked astonished and furious at the same time.

“Anne, now is not a good time to argue with me,” he said. Every eye in the room was on us. I did not care because I wanted them to be aware of the awful lie I lived my entire life. I had more to get off my chest.

“I try to impress you and then I hear you talking negatively about your daughter in front of people? I guess I know what you value in life. Press. Articles. Appearance. Clothes. Homes. Lies. Not me.”

My father looked around the enormous room to see everyone staring with shock. The room was so silent you could hear a pin drop. His face was drained of color, yet full of anger. He then announced the feast was postponed to a later date. Everyone walked out of the room slowly, eyes glued to my father and me, and filled with disappointment. I did not know whether they were disappointed in my father or me, but frankly, I did not care.

Once every guest had filed out, one by one, my father grabbed me by the arm and walked me to his study. He sat at his formal oak desk, passed down over three generations. I stood in front of him. I expected him to yell and shout and boast about how much of an embarrassment I was. Instead, he simply told me he would not be speaking to me for the foreseeable future and asked me to leave his study. Somehow, that hurt more than if he would have yelled at me. Yet, I was not incredibly saddened.

Footsteps pounded the winding stairway as I waltzed to my room, my safe place. I crawled into my bed and pulled the 2,000-thread count sheets up to my face. Dozing off, I woke up with my throat dry, probably from all of the yelling. I walked back down the staircase to grab a glass of iced water and entered the dining room. My head cocked back and I let out a laugh, because the irony of the night was that the feast, which probably took 10 hours to prepare, was still on the table.

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