Idyllwild local and Idyllwild Arts Academy senior Ben Cruz was one of eight visual artists nationally to be awarded the highest honor by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers — the Gold Medal Portfolio for his work in painting.
Now in its 94th year, the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards is the longest-running and most prestigious national recognition program for teen artists in grades seven to 12. A record-breaking 330,000 works of art and writing were submitted this year for regional adjudication in the awards’ 29 categories, which include poetry, photography, sculpture, painting, editorial cartoons, humor and more.
In winning the highest honor and a $10,000 scholarship, Ben joins distinguished alumni, including Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, Phillip Pearlstein, Sylvia Plath, Stephen King, Richard Linklater, Zac Posen and Lena Dunham.
Ben was an accomplished artist in eighth grade at Idyllwild Middle School, having been a significant contributor to school-mounted exhibits. At Idyllwild Arts Academy, studying with David Reid-Marr, Linda Santana and Rachel Welch, Ben has grown both intellectually and artistically.
One portfolio of his, a study of the World War II Japanese internment camps at Manzanar, is illustrative of the intellectual heft of his interests and inspiration. “When I was in sixth grade, I read a book about a Japanese girl at Manzanar,” remembered Ben. “That stuck with me and later, with my grandparents, we went to the camp to visit. That was super powerful. It felt like a ghost town. I could feel the energy. I related to the struggle of the people.”
Ben’s Manzanar series is powerful, evocative and painful to experience. There is a sense of sadness and longing in what he painted. “I also looked at historical photographs from the Library of Congress — black and white photos by Ansel Adams.” Ben’s Manzanar series, although not in black and white, has a slightly faded look to it as if looking through a less than clear historical window, bound together with pastel shades of red illustrating the suffering of the internees.
Ben’s awards include the top award for Gold Medal Art Portfolio, a Silver Medal Art Portfolio and a Gold Medal New York Life Award.
He will be recognized at an awards ceremony at Carnegie Hall on Thursday, June 8. “I will attend,” said Ben. “This award means so much to me and my family, since we are struggling financially. This will help pay for art supplies.” Ben’s art also will be featured at a special exhibition at the New School’s Parsons School of Design and Pratt Institute’s Pratt Manhattan Gallery in New York City from June 2 to June 12.
Ben said he already has been accepted at three out of the four college programs to which he has applied, including Maryland Institute College of Art and Design in Baltimore, Kansas City Art Institute, and School of the Art Institute in Chicago. He is still waiting to hear from Cooper Union School of Art in New York City.
“I think my strongest suit is painting, although I am now working with laser cutting,” said Ben. “I think I’ll be a painting major at college but I’m also interested in textures — fiber and material studies.”
Ben’s work can be viewed at this link provided by the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards: www.dropbox.com/sh/qp2kubev7j4dihq/AABhnzgw9qqF7BdyuGh6B81Pa?dl=0.