The Bennett Prize

10 finalists announced for $50,000 Bennett Prize for women figurative realist painters

PITTSBURGH, Pa. Nov. 15, 2018 – Today 10 women from across the country who paint in the figurative realist style were named finalists or the $50,000 Bennett Prize, the largest art award ever offered solely to women painters.

The 10 were selected from among 647 entrants, a number that greatly surpassed expectations of 350 entries for the inaugural year. Endowed at The Pittsburgh Foundation by art collectors Steven Alan Bennett and Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt, this first-of-its-kind prize is designed to propel the careers of women artists.

“The response has been incredible – exceeding our best hopes – and the paintings submitted for consideration are stunning,” said Art Martin, a juror and director of collections and exhibitions at the Muskegon Museum of Art, where finalists’ works will be presented beginning May 2, 2019. The $50,000 winner will be announced at the exhibition opening. An exhibition of the finalists’ works will travel following the Muskegon Museum of Art opening. Stops in the Pennsylvania cities of Pittsburgh and Reading are planned and more venues will be added.

The 10 finalists are:

A four-member jury, which includes renowned realist painters Maria Tomasula and Andrea Kowch, selected the finalists, who will each receive $1,000 to participate in the exhibition. The winner of The Bennett Prize will receive $25,000 annually for two years to allow her to devote the time necessary to mount a solo exhibition of figurative realist paintings, which will open at the Muskegon Museum of Art in 2021 and then travel the country.

The Bennett Prize spotlights women artists who are or seek to become full-time painters, but have not yet reached full professional recognition. The Prize is also designed to allow the public to learn more about the creative vision of talented women painters working in the increasingly popular style of figurative realism.

“More people should be seeing the important figurative realist paintings that women are creating. These painters have much to say at a time when we’re struggling to understand human differences, including gender and race,” said Prize benefactor Bennett.

Bennett and Schmidt, of San Antonio, Texas, endowed a $3 million fund at The Pittsburgh Foundation to ensure The Prize will be awarded every two years in perpetuity.

“When we first announced The Prize and the exhibition surrounding it, we knew there was a need for more support for women artists, but we had no way of knowing just where this project might go,” Schmidt said. “This level of interest has given us the assurance that The Bennett Prize and exhibition can be sustained and grown, helping give voice and support to figurative women painters around the country for years to come.”

The Bennetts collaborated with The Pittsburgh Foundation in part because of its experience funding local artists and artists of color through its Investing in Professional Arts and Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grant-making programs, which the Foundation runs in collaboration with The Heinz Endowments, also based in Pittsburgh.

Maxwell King, Pittsburgh Foundation president and CEO, acknowledged the crucial role of The Prize in elevating the work of women painters. “The Bennetts recognize the need to encourage more women to take their rightful place in the art world. Their vision and their partnership with The Pittsburgh Foundation exemplify the very best ways in which community foundations help donors develop and implement life-changing ideas,” King said.

Schmidt and Bennett are among the country’s top collectors of figurative realist art and are committed to seeing that talented women painters receive long-overdue recognition.

“There should be as many paintings by women as men in museums, commanding the same prices and critical esteem,” Schmidt said. “Our goal is to help make that happen.”

Also recognized as part of The Bennett Prize jury process are ten honorable mentions:

  • Bryony Bensly, Lunenburg, Massachusetts
  • Shiqing Deng, Brooklyn, New York
  • Michelle Doll, Hoboken, New Jersey
  • Jessica Gordon, Davidson, North Carolina
  • Sasha Gordon, Somers, New York
  • Sylvia Maier, Brooklyn, New York
  • Nora Martin-Hall, Los Angeles, California
  • Felicita Norris, San Jose, California
  • Rebecca Orcutt, Brooklyn, New York
  • Natasha Young, Kealia, Hawaii

Learn more about the Honorable Mentions.

More information about the Bennetts and their art collection is at


Amanda Rogalski