Bringing Hillsdale County together through both community encouragement and involvement in the arts, ArtWorks of Hillsdale is opening the nominations for the 2019 ‘Artist of the Year’ award to the public. Nominations can be made by any individual who recognizes a community member’s advocacy or involvement in the local arts.
“In the past usually ArtWorks board members nominate and vote on who receives the award,” President of Artworks Connie Sexton said. “We are very excited about inviting the community this year and hope they get excited about it, too.”
With this award, ArtWorks recognizes a special individual or couple whose art influences and impacts the Hillsdale County community.
ArtWorks seeks to recognize those who promote and are involved in various disciplines of art, whether it be drawing, painting, music, theater, literature, photography, or dance.
The ArtWorks board consists of 14 members, who will review the nominations made by the community. The recipient, according to Sexton, will be announced in mid-April.
“We want the public to be part of the process. We are trying to encourage the public to be aware of Hillsdale’s vast art community and ArtWorks,” Sexton said. “The council supports many art projects throughout the county and provides venues to demonstrate and showcase Hillsdale County artists and musicians and numerous artistic endeavors.”
Some previous winners of the ‘Artist of the Year’ award include Don and Jan Heckenlively for their contribution in photography and painting, Arlan and Gudi Gilbert in art and literature, Joan VanArsdalen in dance, and Ned and Debbi Wyse in literature and music.
Ned and Debbi Wyse received the ArtWorks ‘Artist of the Year’ award in 2016, specifically for Debbi Wyse’s involvement as a Hillsdale College piano teacher and within the college’s chamber choir, and Ned Wyse’s recitation of Robert Frost poetry.
“I knew about ArtWorks through a music competition for high school and junior high students,” Debbi Wyse said. “I didn’t really know anything about the award, other than the fact that I had other friends who won the award.”
Debbi Wyse has been a part of the college’s music department since 1981 teaching piano, and this will be her 38th year working with the Hillsdale College choir.
“I still have no idea who nominated me, and I was completely surprised,” Debbi Wyse said. “The award was not for a specific concert or even performance, but rather for my continued dedication to music over the years.”
Debbi Wyse teaches 24 private students piano, and works with the chamber choir and college choir. Every year, Debbi Wyse also co-directs Opera Workshop with Melissa Osmond, voice director at the college. Every other year, she and Kristi Gautche also run a program with two toy pianos called Child’s Play.
In addition to her involvement in the Hillsdale College community, Debbi Wyse has been a harp student since 2003, and uses this new skill set within the Hillsdale community through a hospice ministry and visiting retirement homes.
“I’ve played for quite a few funerals, and accompanied the Hillsdale Art Choral, but mainly my interest with harp is to play at bedside for people in their last days and retirement,” Debbi Wyse said. “It’s really neat to see the power that music has when people recovering from a stroke or some other condition.”
As for Ned Wyse, he performed his first recitation of Robert Frost poetry in May 1983 in Phillips Auditorium. Since then, he has recited Frost poetry in nearly 28 states, and visits schools to recite poetry for students of various ages.
“I recite according to the audience – I accept requests, but ultimately will choose what is appropriate for elementary students, etc.,” Ned Wyse said. “I don’t know all of Frost’s poetry, but I do know quite a bit. I memorize his poetry while I do field work, because I’m a farmer, and so was Frost.”
Ned Wyse remembers one specific memory from visiting one of his first public school assemblies in 1984, which encapsulates why he loves to recite Frost’s poetry so much.
“I performed a recitation in an assembly, and a student came up to the teacher and said ‘He’s not an actor or anything, but a regular guy who likes poetry,’” Ned Wyse said. “Art should be acceptable. I think that whatever art it is, it is an enriching part of life. What would life be without art? Pretty dismal, I think.”
The Wyse’s received a private reception with their guests of choice at the Perennial Park Senior Center in Hillsdale, where hors‑d’oeuvres and drinks were served, and they received flowers and an award from the state of Michigan. Winners of the ‘Artist of the Year’ award receive an honorary reception, although the location is to be announced.
“We both received accommodation from the governor, and a special tribute signed from the governor and our state representative, Eric Leutheuser,” Debbi Wyse said. “We also received a piece of art from Gudi Wittgen, a Scherrenschnitt artist who creates art from scissor-cutting a single piece of paper. The piece is of me at a grand piano with a ball gown on, and Ned is standing beside the piano in a tuxedo and reciting poetry.”