WESSINGTON SPRINGS — It is the painting and the piece of art that Kenzee Schafer has spent the most time on in her young art career. About 70 hours, she estimated.

And appropriately, it’s the one that will represent South Dakota in the halls of Congress for the next 12 months.

Schafer, a 17-year-old junior at Wessington Springs High School, was named the winner of the 2020 Congressional Art Competition for South Dakota this week.

Her entry, titled “Pride” was completed with oil and acrylic paints and depicts a stoic-looking young woman with long dark hair and skin with patterned facepaint around the left side of her face. The woman is wearing an intricate necklace. Schafer believes the intricacies of the necklace are what made it stand out, because some parts of the necklace required as many as three layers of paint.

“It’s bright and I think that’s what makes it stand out,” she said of the design, which was inspired by an image on Pinterest. “I think the facepaint is unique, and the necklace took so much time. It’s like a net."

"Pride," an oil and acrylic painting by Wessington Springs High School junior Kenzee Schafer was selected as 2020 winner of the Congressional Art Contest from South Dakota. (Courtesy of the South Dakota Arts Council.)
"Pride," an oil and acrylic painting by Wessington Springs High School junior Kenzee Schafer was selected as 2020 winner of the Congressional Art Contest from South Dakota. (Courtesy of the South Dakota Arts Council.)

The award means Schafer would be invited to a reception in Washington D.C. and visit the Capitol. But that is on hold given the coronavirus concerns, and she’s hopeful that can still take place at some point. Miranda Thorson, a senior at Northwestern Area High School in Mellette, took second place in the competition.

“It didn’t really sink in when I first heard I won, and then I got home later and I was like, “Oh, OK, I won! That’s a big thing,” she said.

The Congressional Art Competition is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson’s office in partnership with the South Dakota Arts Council. The painting will hang in the Cannon Tunnel at the U.S. Capitol, which connects more than 140 Congressional offices to the Capitol building and is one of the most traveled hallways on Capitol Hill.

“The world needs creativity and art now more than ever,” Johnson said in an announcement about the winners. “Each submission was unique in its own way. One thing is for sure – South Dakota is full of talent. I’m proud that Kenzee’s beautiful artwork will represent South Dakota in the halls of Congress.”

Schafer is most accomplished as a painter, but said she does art in all mediums, ranging from pencil drawings to ink. She even did a few pottery pieces earlier this year.

“I would almost say the eye for detail is my best skill,” she said. “If there’s supposed to be a straight line and there’s little bumps in it, I will try to replicate those. I can mix color and paint really well, and I can kind of just look at a color and know what it will take to mix that. I guess there’s a little bit of perfectionist in me.”

Schafer provided a lot of credit to her mother, Jeanna, who has fostered her art skills from a young age, and Wessington Springs’ art teacher Alicia Roesler, who has built a reputation of teaching talented young artists.

Schafer also has that reputation, as well. One of her most prized works is her paint work of a former semi-trailer that is now used for storage at Willman-Fee American Legion Post 14 in Wessington Springs. The post’s home was rebuilt after the community was hit by a tornado in 2014, and in the summers of 2017 and 2018, Schafer painted the storage unit with an American-themed eagle on one end and a large U.S. flag mural, another eagle and the words “In God We Trust” on the long side of the trailer that overlooks State Highway 34.

She was commissioned for that 9-by-53-foot project by the Legion post when she was 14 years old and used automotive paint to complete the project. It is a source of community pride for many in Wessington Springs, she said.

Schafer also won the 2018 Youth Art Show at the Dakota Discovery Museum in Mitchell. She’s also done work for outdoors-related banquets, such as Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever.

Schafer said “Pride” is an older painting, completed in January 2019, meaning this was probably one of the last competitions it could be entered in. Jeanna Schafer and Roesler had encouraged Kenzee to submit the piece for the competition, the first time she has participated in the Congressional contest.

“When I found out about this, I had already done the painting, so it worked out perfectly,” she said.

She hasn’t yet decided what path she will take after high school, or if she might want to make art her professional career. She admitted she has some concern about the viability of doing art professionally during and following the pandemic.

“It’s kind of up in the air,” Schafer said. “If I really think I can go into the art business, I think I will, but everything is uncertain right now.”

She said a silver lining to the pandemic is she’s been able to dedicate more time to her art, working ahead for potential future engagements.