Jury Day at the Mill

October 5, 2023

Jury Day at the Mill
A Lovely Tradition

An esteemed panel of jurors, which changes from year to year, curates the Art Show at Phillips’ Mill, selecting works from hundreds of submissions. This gives the show a different look each year.

Jill A. Rupinski - Art Show Juror
Jill A. Rupinski

This year’s show was curated by jurors Syd Carpenter, Al Gury, Jill Rupinski, Lauren Sandler, and TK Smith. They came together on one long and wonderful day this September to experience and evaluate a sea of incredible artwork. How could they narrow down the more than 600 submissions to about 90 to 100 framed works, and then go back to choose 20 awards? “They have a process in place. It was very organized,” explains juror Jill A. Rupinski, a fine art painter, Professor and Chairperson of the Fine Arts Department at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

“As soon as I walked in the Mill that day, I saw so much diverse and gorgeous work. There was sculpture in the center of the room, and the outer walls filled and stacked with art. It was great.”

Throughout the day, Jill and the other jurors were treated to showings of all of the works, with opportunities to get a second look after the initial selections were made. “Three of us sat in a row while the volunteers, who were very gracious, would walk the pieces in front of us,” Jill continues. “I see something positive in every piece, but know I am there to put together a show.”

More often than not, Jill and the other two jurors evaluating the paintings (two other jurors select the sculpture winners) were in agreement. When they weren’t, they talked about why, and gave those works another look with that perspective in mind. “With each painting, we vote yes, no or maybe,” Jill explains. “In a couple of cases, we all pulled a maybe.” 

Al Gury - Art Show Juror
Al Gury

Juror Al Gury, professor at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, recalls some of the negotiations that went back and forth. “The quality of work was really high. There was a lot of really good work. There were quite a few well-established painters. I imagine many went to art school in Philadelphia,” he notes. “I like to create a diverse show, and I paid special attention to the variety of work, to have an interesting show.”

What do jurors look for? 

Jill notes that first impressions go a long way. She wants to know how the work looks from a distance, including the way it is framed and matted, noting that the wrong frame will distract from the work.

“The frame should not scream louder than the work,” she says. “Next, I look at composition. How is the piece composed? Is there a unity of elements arround a center of interest? If the artist it attempting to do a realistic portrait or a figure, do the formal elements align? Then I look at the narrative content, the subject matter. And, finally, originality, though noteworthy craftsmanship can trump that. If it is a drawing of trees, is it the best drawing of trees? When it came to the prizes, we tried to adhere to the wishes of the donor.”

When selecting a work for an award, the jurors first consider the category, of which there are 20 in the Phillips’ Mill show. There may be some overlap, so it’s important to go back and consider the work in that context. The sponsors of the award name them for particular reasons. The 2023 categories, for example, include work by a first-time exhibitor, work reflecting the diversity in America, and a work depicting a Bucks County bridge.

As jurors, they had to be mindful of that, and more. “We always strive to be inclusive and look at the unique qualities of all this very high-quality and interesting work. We have an important job to do, and just want to make the show as interesting as possible,” Jill notes.

After a long but rewarding day, full of snacks and laughs and thoughtful discussion, the 94th Annual Juried Art Show of the Phillips’ Mill was ready to be introduced to the world. We thank all the judges for their thorough review and expert analysis.

“Come out and see the show for yourself and be delighted by the wonderful artistic diversity of the region,” says Jill.

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Illustration of the Phillips' Mill -Artist: Kathie Jankauskus