Best of Show Award renamed to honor former CUSD art teacher
For the past 20 years, The Big Fresno Fair’s Best of Show award ceremony has been a tradition that honors Fresno County high school students for their outstanding artwork.
This year’s award honored not only the students, but also a woman who has dedicated more than 30 years to bringing art to students across the Valley. After funding for the Best of Show awards was pulled at the end of last year, Brent Moser, CUSD visual and performing arts director, suggested that Clovis Unified sponsor the awards each year. With the sponsorship set in motion, he then suggested that the award be re-named to honor the name and the face of visual arts in Clovis Unified for 23 years.
After gaining approval from the Fresno County Exhibit staff and contributing teachers, the award was re-named the Phyllis Johnson Best of Show Award.
Johnson, who served as Clovis Unified’s visual arts resource specialist, said she felt honored when she learned the award had been named after her. “It was a nice culmination to my career with CUSD,” she said. “It is a great recognition within the community for me.”
The Phyllis Johnson Best of Show awards were given Oct. 5, the fair’s opening night, in the Junior Exhibits Building. The ceremony began with a tribute to Johnson given by Moser, in conjunction with the announcement of the award’s name change.
"I can think of no one more deserving of this honor than Phyllis," Moser said. "She has given her heart, soul and passion for art to the kids of the Valley for years. She has taught them to appreciate art and helped them to become life-long learners. To this day, many of our CUSD students and alumni simply refer to Phyllis as 'The Art Lady'."
Awards were then handed out to high school art students whose work entered at the Fresno Fair displayed extraordinary skill. The judging, done by art educators from surrounding community and university colleges, was based on technical skills, creativity and originality used, and the content of the piece.
The awards are comprised of 11 different categories with media including graphite, pastel and ink drawings, painting, ceramic sculpture, ceramic pottery, three-dimensional design, traditional photo, digital photo, digital art and two-dimensional design.
Six of the 11 Phyllis Johnson Best of Show Award winners came from Clovis Unified, five of whom attend Clovis High School, including: Oscar Artmenko who won in the drawing (black and white) category with his piece entitled “Octo”; Whitney Giles who won the ceramics sculpture category with her piece, “Abstract Figure Brown”; Jordan Hunter who took the ceramic pottery category with “Black Vase with Handles”; the traditional photography category award winner went to a piece entitled “Big Brother Is Watching” by David Wheeler; and the digital photography winner was Jeremy Pedron with “Dios Le Bendiga Composite.”
And from Clovis East High School, Sergio Robles received a Phyllis Johnson Best of Show award for his three-dimensional design piece, “Balance.”
Prior to the awards ceremony, Moser contacted Johnson with a request that she create a design for the award bearing her name.
Her approach to the design, Johnson said, was that “it isn’t really about me so I wanted to connect what I had done with the kids’ work.” She came up with the idea of incorporating a freeway 41 mosaic that she had completed with the help of Valley students. The mural, which sits at the Tulare Street northbound onramp, is a colorful depiction of Fresno’s agri-business. Using the mural to design the award, she felt, reflected and honored student-involved work.
The design also reflects Johnson’s career which has been entirely focused on involving students in art. She has brought art to students in cross-curricular classes and elementary school classrooms to name a few; she has brought it to elementary school teachers where she has stressed its value in education; and she has even taken high school students to Europe to expand their appreciation of art.
“I really believe that there is such a value being educated in the arts, not necessarily to become an artist, but to see in a way that artists do,” Johnson said. “That’s what exposure and appreciation is about, what creativity is about. Our whole world is about art – you know about the past when you see the world through art.”
Though officially retired, Johnson continues to actively volunteer with Valley art students. She recently finished work on a project at the Scout Island Educational Center in Fresno. Ceramics class students from throughout Fresno County created tiles reflecting Scout Island’s flora, fauna and wildlife. The tiles now cover 200 stools that are placed in various locations around the park.
“Art has made such a personal difference in my life and I want to share it,” she said. “My goal wasn’t to become a famous artist, my goal was to share art with kids.”