The Bennett Prize

10 finalists announced for $50,000 Bennett Prize for women figurative realist paintersThird iteration of prestigious award sees record number of entries

Pittsburgh, PA - Nov. 29, 2022 - Today 10 women from across the country who paint in the figurative realist style were named finalists for the $50,000 Bennett Prize, the third iteration of the largest art award ever offered solely to women figurative realist painters. The winner and, for the first time, a $10,000 runner-up award, will be named in 2023.

An esteemed jury selected the 10 finalists from a record-setting pool of entrants. Endowed at The Pittsburgh Foundation by art collectors Steven Alan Bennett and Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt, The Prize is designed to propel the careers of women artists. 

“We are deeply gratified by the continuing interest and participation in The Prize competition,” said Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt, co-founder,  “this year’s finalists represent the best of figurative realist painting.”

The winner of the $50,000 award and the $10,000 runner-up award will be announced on Thursday, May 18, 2023, at the Muskegon Museum of Art. All 10 finalists’ works will remain on view there until September 10 before traveling through the summer of 2025, with already scheduled exhibitions at the Customs House Museum and Cultural Center (Clarksville, TN), the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, and Studio Incamminati (Philadelphia, PA). The work of Bennett Prize 2 winner, Ayana Ross, will be presented in a solo exhibition that will run concurrently with the exhibition of the finalists.

The 10 finalists, in alphabetical order, are:

  • Ruth Dealy, Providence, RI
  • Ronna S. Harris, New Orleans, LA
  • Haley Hasler, Fort Collins, CO 
  • Sara Lee Hughes, Lockhart, TX
  • Monica Ikegwu, Baltimore, MD
  • Laura Karetzky, Brooklyn, NY
  • Linda Infante Lyons, Anchorage, AK
  • Mayumi Nakao, Brooklyn, NY
  • Kyla Zoe Rafert, Amanda, OH
  • Deng Shiqing, Brooklyn, NY

Find full biographical information, head shots and samples of the finalists’ work on The Bennett Prize’s website: https://thebennettprize.org/3.0-Finalists.

A four-member jury--which includes eminent realist painter, Zoey Frank; world-renowned illustrator and painter, Julie Bell; retired director/CEO of the Frye Art Museum, Joseph Rosa; and Prize co-founder, Steven Alan Bennett--selected the finalists.

“I’m excited by the wide range of work among the finalists, from tightly rendered portraits to more painterly approaches to the figure that hover between representation and abstraction. As a committee we were looking for work that felt like it was made today, had something to say, and was skillfully executed. There were a record setting number of applicants, there were many strong painters who didn’t make it into the final round. If you weren’t selected this year, I’d encourage you to apply again in the future,” shared juror Frank.

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 her work, which will open at the Muskegon Museum of Art in 2025 and then travel the country.

“The work of these finalists lives up to, and exceeds, the high standards set by the previous finalists. The Finalists’ exhibition is going to be an extraordinary exhibition of the highest quality,” said Bennett, juror and co-founder of The Prize.

The Bennett Prize spotlights women artists who are or seek to become full-time painters, but who have not yet achieved 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 ever popular style of figurative realism.

“It was an emotional experience to judge this competition. Going through each artist's body of work was like meeting each one in person and having a heart-to-heart conversation.  So many different styles of painting, so many different stories that were told. I felt connected to every one of them. It was inspiring on the deepest level,” said juror Bell.

Together, the 18 finalists and two winners from The Bennett Prize 1 and 2 have sold more than 100 paintings at a 45% increase in price—despite the impact of COVID-19. They’ve led or participated in 19 solo shows and 46 group shows, creating more opportunity for the public to view their talent.

“The entire Bennett Prize team has become avid fans of The Prize winners and finalists over the past four years,” said co-founder Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt. “We take great delight in the successes of these talented women and their contributions to society, and will continue working toward the day where there are as many paintings by women as men in museums, commanding the same prices and critical esteem."

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. The Prize was announced in 2018 and was developed at the Foundation’s Center for Philanthropy, which used human-centered design principles to help donors define and actualize transformative philanthropic initiatives.

“The diversity of work we had the honor of reviewing was astounding,” shared juror Rosa. “The Bennetts’ mission and generosity around this important work is unprecedented.” 

Schmidt and Bennett are among the country’s foremost collectors of figurative realist art and are committed to seeing that talented women painters receive long-overdue recognition, such as solo exhibitions, higher prices for their work, commissions and inclusion in museum and private collections. They recently announced a gift to the Muskegon Museum of Art to help double the size of the institution including space that will be permanently dedicated to women artists.

“The impact of The Bennett Prize has exceeded all of our expectations for elevating the work of women figurative realist painters, for generating income and acclaim for these artists, and for bringing their unique vision and talent to public acclaim,” said Lisa Schroeder, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation, where The Prize is managed. “The Bennetts and our Center for Philanthropy have provided a blueprint for how donors can partner with community foundations to realize their vision for a more just, creative and beautiful world.”

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More information about The Bennett Prize is at http://www.thebennettprize.org. Follow The Bennett Prize on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates on the finalists and exhibitions.

Eligibility for The Bennett Prize:
The Bennett Prize is open only to women eighteen years or older whose primary practice is the creation of original paintings in the genre of figurative realism. Artists must be currently pursuing, or hope to pursue, a career as a full-time painter. No contestant may be a full- or part-time student at any time during the period from the conclusion of the call for entries through the announcement of the winner. Artists who have received a prior award or grant of $25,000 or more, or sold any single work of art for $25,000 or more, are NOT eligible.

See the complete rules at https://thebennettprize.org/bennett/complete-rules.

More information about the Bennetts and their art collection is at http://www.thebennettartcollection.com.