By Jennifer Tuohy, The Island Connection Editor
The Holiday Festival of Lights kicked off its 26th season Nov. 13 and during the grand opening celebration, the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission presented awards for the festival’s annual Giant Greeting Card competition. The winning entries are on display during the event, which runs nightly through Jan. 3 at James Island County Park.
This year, there were 38 entries from Charleston County student groups in elementary, middle and high school divisions. The winning top three schools in each division, and four honorable mention winners, received a trophy and cash award to apply to their school arts program. The winner of the High School Division was St Johns High school student Zuri Zepke with her affecting design depicting two hands, one black, one white, emerging from the Emanuel AME church and entwining together behind the word Charleston. The words “Believe in” hover over the scene.
“She’s just an exceptional art student,” Dona Dowling, St Johns Highs’ art teacher, said. “This was just an incredibly eventful year for Charleston and it was just wonderful that one of the students decided to remember it in this way.”
All students in the fall semester art classes at St. Johns created scale drawing proposals for this project. After group critiques, Zuri’s design was chosen by student votes. The Advanced Art Class enlarged Zuri’s design and painted the 4’x8′ plywood.
“It wasn’t the only one relating to gun violence or the shooting [at the Emanuel AME Church in June of this year]. But it was the one that compositionally and drawing wise looked the best with that theme of ‘Believe In’,” Dowling said.
This is the eleventh year SJHS has participated in the competition and fourth time SJHS has been awarded 1st place.
In past years, Dowling has organized a field trip for the art students to go to the Festival of Lights.
“We would have a pizza party at school and they’d all get santa hats and we’d go over as a group. But because of [the school district’s] $18 million shortfall all our spending this year has to go for art supplies and it would be too expensive to underwrite it for every students. We used to do the s’mores there, which was really exciting as some of these students have never had them before…” However, Zuri will get to go, as part of her prize.
“She was so excited to win, her grandparent and her brother, John, who is also an excellent art student, went with her to the awards ceremony. When she brought the trophy back and said ‘Do I get to keep the trophy?’ I said, yes of course!”
The process of designing the card gave Dowling an opportunity through which to discuss the tragedy that occurred in downtown Charleston this summer.
“Having class discussions about what has happened in Charleston brought up some great conversations,” she said. “Just talking about what needs to happen in a community and how Charleston has reacted differently to Baltimore or Ferguson, it’s was really interesting to discuss how and why that’s happened. For her to focus on believing in Charleston and how things have transpired here is very powerful, to make it something real and local as well was just really wonderful.”
SJHS art department receives $300 for art supplies as part of the prize and Zuri receives the trophy and a pass to view the Lights with her family.
The Holiday Festival of Lights is open nightly through Jan. 3 at James Island County Park and is presented by Boeing and Charleston County Parks. For details, including special event dates, hours, fees, and more, visit CharlestonCountyParks.com or call 843.795.4386.