MMA hosts Bennett Prize for women artists


Photos by Jeanne Vollmer

By Cynthia Price

Hosting the inaugural Bennett Prize for women figurative realists, and the ceremony awarding $50,000 to one gifted artist, is yet one more coup for the wonderful and sometimes under-appreciated Muskegon Museum of Art.

Retired attorney Stephen Bennett and his life partner, educator Dr. Elaine M. Schmidt, are art collectors extraordinaire who decided they wanted to offer a prize to encourage women artists working in the world of figurative art.

Though the definition of figurative is “derived from real object sources and [therefore] representational,” that is, not abstract, the fact is that a lot of contemporary figurative paintings do include the human figure.

Bennett and Schmidt recognized that the status of women in the art world was degraded, but also that the critical view of figurative painting is also often negative.

They decided they wanted to do something to counteract these trends, and sought out the Pittsburgh Foundation on the advice of their financial advisor.

There they were fortunate to run into Maxwell King, the foundation’s CEO and a former editor of the award-winning Philadelphia Inquirer. The three strategized about how to achieve the couple’s dream of giving such a prize. In an address at the MMA last week marking the prize award, Bennett said, “We returned again and again to the basic premise that in the area of women artists there needs to be action taken – by us and not by someone else.”

However, he says, they encountered a lot of discouragement when they approached museums. Finally, their friend Richard Demato of RJD?Gallery  in New York, which specializes in figurative art, introduced them to Judith Hayner, former MMA Director.

Though Hayner was retiring, Bennett says that current Executive Director Kirk Hallman filled in admirably. Maxwell King echoed the sentiment in his remarks at the reception, also crediting the MMA’s Marguerite Curran and Rogo Marketing and Communications.

Ten finalists were chosen out of 647 entries, and all of their impressive entries can be seen through September 8 at the Bennett Prize exhibit, entitled “Rising Voices: The Bennett Prize for Women Figurative Realists.”

Then Hallman announced the winner of the $50,000 award: Aneke Ingold, “I’m going to cherish this moment forever,” she said. “This is going to change my life!”
Ingold is from Tampa, Fla., but her degrees are from Grand Valley State University and Kendall. (Dr. Schmidt hails originally from Michigan.) Ingold has received many awards and first place prizes. The figures she paints are always women, she says in her artist statement, adding,  “My art is a way of understanding the woman I am and the woman I want to become.”


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