The Annual Rock Island Fine Arts Exhibition gets better each year, and this year's show is not to be missed when it opens on April 5 in Augustana College's Centennial Hall Gallery. There were 280 entries from 149 artists in this year's edition of the annual regional competition, and only 66 works made the show, including 10 from Iowa City, nine from Davenport, seven from Rock Island, and five each from Moline and Bettendorf. There was more three-dimensional work in this year's show than ever before.

Maj-Britt Hilstrom, a sculptor, printmaker, and founder of Blue Bay Press in San Francisco, was this year's juror, and based on her comments about the show, she appears to appreciate allegory in art. Hilstrom, who studied at Augustana College as well as in Chicago, Tokyo, and Italy, is a mixed-media artist, and the first-place winner is a mixed-media piece. In fairness, I'm not much on mixed-media works that look like mixed-media works. I prefer artwork to transcend medium rather than showcase it, and in this case, American Canvas II by Mary Snyder Behrens of Dysart, Iowa, looks very much like a mixed-media box with a lot of stuff in it. But the juror explained all the allegory and symbolism she saw in the artwork, and I cannot dispute her judgment. One of her comments was that the wishbones mounted near the bottom of the box symbolized hopefulness.

The second place winner, Cubus by Terry Rathje of Long Grove, Iowa, is an intriguing work. It is a manipulated inkjet print on a rusting metal canvas, and I like it the more I look at it. On first glance, the artwork doesn't appear to be anything special, but a further look reveals an unnerving sense of spatial warp, the rusting of the canvas, the rusting of the bus, and the way the image and the media work together seamlessly.

James Konrad of Rock Island won third place for Study: Afghan Women, which shows three Afghan women in their burkas. The screen out of which the Afghan women view the world is made of a metallic substance affixed to the drawing, while Konrad's drawing style is free and fluid, a sharp contrast to the confining strictures of the burkas. This is a pleasing work that also gives one something to think about.

Honorable mentions were awarded to James Walker Henry of Burlington, Iowa, for Mourning Glory, an oil painting of Christ on the cross with the World Trade Center burning in the background; Sister Louise Kames of Dubuque, Iowa, for Pages Turned, an etching and relief print of a corncrib and thistle; Michael Mahoney of Macomb, Illinois, for Anatomy Lesson, a unique figure study of a young girl against a schoolroom green board; and Steve Sinner of Bettendorf for his wooden vase titled Ant Farm II, with gold and silver leaf, acrylics, pen, and ink.

Two works that didn't get awards also caught my eye: Scherzo by Peter Thompson of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Dakota by Tracy Skibitzki of Rock Island. Scherzo appealed to me because I liked the impressionist quality of his use of paint; Thompson painted the atmosphere as much as the orchestra's string section, and one really gets the feeling of the movement and coordination of the musicians. (It could also be that my eyesight is so poor that often I've seen life with a blurry focus.)

Skibitzki's Dakota is one of those sensitive drawings that is almost so fragile, viewers are afraid they'll break it. One of the things that most appeals to me is an artist getting beyond words, expressing life with forms and lines, and this shift in perception comes through to me in this drawing. The artist is in love with what she is doing, and we hope that life will not kill that spirit.

The 26th Annual Rock Island Fine Arts Exhibition opens April 5 with a reception from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

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