Welcome back to our blog series dedicated to spotlighting those who have participated in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards over these last 100 years. For the past eight weeks leading up to the national Awards ceremony at Carnegie Hall this evening, we have been sharing the stories of some of the program’s incredible alumni whose lives have truly been impacted by the Awards.
Today, we will be closing out our series with alum James Wells, an Education Manager at Crayola, currently based in Memphis, TN.
As a child, James always knew he wanted to be an artist, or at the very least, be involved in the arts. He would always carry a pencil behind his ear and would staple sheets of copy paper together to create sketchbooks he could doodle or draw in. He took his artwork so seriously that he was eventually accepted into Colonial Middle School and Overton High School, both creative and performing arts institutions.
Although he was consistently creating amazing works of art throughout his high school career, it wasn’t until 2001—James’ senior year— that he applied to the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards thanks to encouragement from his art teachers. James was recognized for his artwork by the program, placing third overall in his region for one of his watercolor paintings, which he still has today.
Regionally, James was the only student to have won Gold Keys for his drawing and painting portfolio, as well as his photography portfolio. Additionally, his self-portrait watercolor painting titled “Warm Thoughts” received a Gold Key and placed 3rd overall in the show. James received a total of 5 Gold Keys and 2 Silver Keys. Not only was this the first recognition James had received from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, but it was also the first competition that recognized James’ artistic talents overall. Four long years of waiting to submit his art to a program was very much worth the wait.
His well-deserved recognition was a big deal for James, who said that the Awards, which he likes to describe as the “competition of all competitions” made him feel “so, so confident, and opened up so many doors” for him.
Not only did this honor grant him renewed confidence within himself and in his artwork, but it also opened the door to his receiving a full scholarship to attend the University of Memphis.
After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts, James spent some years working as an art educator and did work for a youth corps art program in Tennessee. After five years in the classroom, James enrolled at Winthrop University to pursue his Master of Arts in Arts Administration. James’ involvement in both the art education and administrative worlds allowed him to fully immerse himself into the field in a way he never before thought was possible. After receiving his graduate degree, James began working at nonprofits, including the Tennessee Arts Commission, where he worked directly with artists, teachers and organizations to provide robust art education experiences in schools and communities throughout Tennessee.
In 2017, James encountered professionals at a Crayola leadership workshop during the National Art Education Conference. Crayola was immediately fascinated with James’ work in schools and offered him a job, and he has happily been working for Crayola as an Education Manager ever since. In this position, James is responsible for developing and designing content to support and champion creativity—specifically, creative teaching and learning practices in the classroom. During the pandemic, he began creating a series of micro-learning videos that help spark creativity that teachers can use and apply to their own lessons.
As someone who has been in this field for the better part of his career, James believes that every kid should have the opportunity to express their own creativity like he did as a teen. To this day, James credits his creative success, both professionally and personally, to the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. In his own words, “I know I wouldn’t be where I am without that [recognition].”
Thank you for following along as we highlighted these spectacular alums throughout this series. To learn more about the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, please visit artandwriting.org.
Images in the body: Courtesy of James Wells