WESSINGTON SPRINGS - Kenzee Schafer is not deterred by criticism.

The freshman student at Wessington Springs High School likes to create art and learn from any harsh words judges may send her way.

Schafer's tenacity recently garnered her Best of Show at the 2018 Youth Art Show at Dakota Discovery Museum in Mitchell with her most vibrant painting - "Native Spirit."

"I was shocked," she said. "It was surprising. I entered, thought I'd do all right because it was something I liked and it turned out good."

Schafer, 15, entered two paintings - "Red Rose" and "Native Spirit" - thinking maybe one would bring home an award. But winning wasn't her main goal.

"If you're entering a bunch of stuff, then your name is out there," she said.

Prior to the art show in Mitchell, Schafer also entered "Native Spirit" in a show in Sioux Falls, where a judge was offended by the painting. Schafer asked the judge for an explanation.

"The judge just said she didn't like it, which is fine by me. It's just a matter of knowing how I can fix it so I don't offend anyone," she said.

But, the judges weren't offended in Mitchell and found "Native Spirit" to be worth the highest honor.

Schafer said she chose this painting on the "spur of the moment." She came across in inspiring image to use as reference for her painting and used her artistic license to change several features. She mapped out the face with female characteristics but created the rest of the piece freehand.

It's also her first oil painting and the most colorful painting she's ever done, with teal, yellow, red and green. Usually, she paints wildlife using mostly browns, greens, and blues.

"This was the first project I really liked to do in class," Schafer said. "So, I took it home and worked on it. It took a couple of weeks to complete."

Her hard work definitely paid off. The Best in Show title also earned the freshman $1,000, which went straight into savings. Schafer is working toward attending art school Minneapolis when she graduates high school, but she is unsure of a major.

Her work on the painting is being noticed around town, too. Several people have asked if "Native Spirit" is for sale.

"I'm going to make prints of it," she said of the painting. "I'm keeping the original though. I'm pretty proud of it."

Schafer's talent stems from childhood, sketching and doodling being her primary art form. She started painting when she was 10, which turned from small canvases to larger murals on various surfaces. The most notable canvas she's used is the 60-foot long semi-trailer parked on the hill by Wessington Springs' American Legion Hall.

Last summer, the American Legion approached Schafer and asked her to paint an American flag and a bald eagle on the trailer. Using automotive paint, Schafer completed her design in 10 days, and considers the mural a great achievement.

She began painting murals after her mother, Jeanna, asked her to paint a flag and eagle head on an old barn door. The word spread about Schafer's creations after her mother posted them on Facebook, and a few people requested Schafer paint murals for them as well.

"I sold a few others, and kept one," she said.

One of Schafer's most unique projects recently was painting the covering on a silage pile.

"I did that for a friend," Schafer said. "I found a picture and used spray paint to paint an eagle carrying a flag."

As the school year winds down, Schafer is considering painting a portrait of a friend's daughter. With no immediate plans to enter art shows, she continues to doodle, draw, and paint.

"I kind of have the motto of, 'What happens, happens,'" she said.