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By Ed Moreth 

Plains artist takes second in national contest

 

August 9, 2018

Ed Moreth

NEAR THE TOP – Malachi Paulsen holds the graphite drawing of U.S. Army veteran Polly Gill, which netted him second place in the national VFW Auxiliary Young American Creative Patriotic Art Contest.

A drawing has put Plains, Montana, on the map, according to Carol Harris, coordinator for the VFW Post 3596 Auxiliary Young American Creative Patriotic Art Contest, after a Plains High School student took second place nationwide.

"This is a big deal. In the whole country, we're number two," said Harris, who's been the local auxiliary contest chairperson for 25 years.

Malachi Paulsen was extremely pleased when he was recently notified that he took second with a black and white graphite portrait of U.S. Army veteran Polly Gill, also a Plains resident. The contest brought the 18-year-old national recognition, but also a $5,000 scholarship.

The top winner of each state is eligible to compete at the national level and receives scholarships from $500 to $10,000. This was the first time that a Plains artist has placed, said Harris, who had seven participants at the local level this year. Paulsen received $50 from Post 3596 and $100 from the state level. Second place in the local competition was Skylar Bergstrom and third was Justine Martin, both of Plains.

Paulsen competed for the first time last year with a combination graphite/colored pencil drawing of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. He took first place at the local level, but that's as far as he got.

"I wanted to do something different this year," said Paulsen. "I think there's a lot of emotion in a portrait, so I decided to do that." The teen initially wanted to do a portrait of his grandfather, who was a World War II veteran, but he had no good photographs of him. He decided to do a portrait of a local woman military veteran and wanted to take his own photos of the person. He asked around at his church and Gill's name came up.

He shot several photos of Gill in her VFW cap that he used for reference and after about 80 hours had a 14x17 drawing of her. He added an American flag to the background. Unlike his Iwo Jima piece, he had no color in the Gill drawing.

"I wanted to work with black and white because I know I could work well with that, and if I tried to do something new I would be unsure of it," said Paulsen, who started drawing when he was 11 or 12 years old while being homeschooled in Alaska by his mother, Ilene, who's been a professional artist for 16 years and painted two wildlife murals on the outside wall of the Garden Gift & Floral in May and June.

Malachi Paulsen has worked in a variety of art mediums: colored pencil, painting, woodcarving, metal sculpture, and ceramics, but graphite is his favorite. "I just like doing black and white. It's clean," he said. He even designed a lion statue drawing that he had tattooed on his back.

Over the years, he's done drawings of flowers, animals, people, dragons, lettering, and abstract. The Gill drawing was only his third attempt at a portrait, although it's something he wants to do more. He's already won a handful of accolades for his artwork, including two People's Choice Awards in the Sanders County Arts Council's Art on the Walls exhibitions and two People's Choice Awards in the school's student art shows. In addition, he recently placed in the Montana Congressional Art Contest with a graphite titled "The Visitor," a drawing of a fly on a flower, a photographic image that his mother had taken. The piece will be exhibited for a year in the Congressional Hall in Washington, D.C.

Paulsen likes to use photographs as guides in his art, but only as a reference. He said that he substantially changes the ones he didn't shoot so as not to plagiarize. His work of Gill was nearly identical to the photo he shot of her, adding the background flag to add to the patriotic theme.

He said he enjoyed working on her graphite. "I love the details in the art. Drawing the eyes and glasses and the pins on her hat was the most fun," said Paulsen. The hardest and most time consuming aspect was the estimated six hours he spent on the detail of her hair. But his work with the retired soldier wasn't limited to his pencil. He spent time to get to know her, partly because he had to submit a 150-word patriotic explanation of his art. "This portrait of an Army nurse depicts the dedication of those women and men who have chosen to serve their country by providing high quality health care for military personnel, their families and military retirees," he wrote.

But he said he also wanted to find out details about Gill and about her time in the military. "I felt that if I was going to draw her I should get to know her a little more and I wanted to get her opinion on what patriotism was to her," said Paulsen, who said he was impressed with her service. He said Gill was pleased that he placed so high in the contest with her drawing.

"She was literally speechless. Her mouth just fell open. She didn't know what to say. She was so amazed," said Ilene Paulsen, who admitted that she and Kristen Cole, the school art teacher, were more emotional about Malachi's achievement than he was. Harris said that Cole is instrumental in getting students to enter the VFW contest.

Paulsen has one more year of high school, but is considering an art career, possibly as an architect or a tattoo artist. Although he's done other mediums, drawing is his passion. He's working on a website that features his work. A few years ago, he had five of his drawings published in a poetry book.

Once a person places in the VFW contest, they are ineligible to compete again, but that won't stop Paulsen from seeking other contests.

 

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