Congressional Art winner explores themes of womanhood, societal pressures

LUDINGTON, MI — Ruby Henrickson is a young artist beginning to explore the themes and concepts which will create her body of work.

The Ludington High School junior came a little closer to finding her path when she won the 2016 Congressional Art Competition for Michigan's second district. Her piece entitled "Static," which features a morose dark-haired woman being pulled by strings of paint, flirts with addressing the societal pressure that "drags" young girls in different directions, though Henrickson isn't sure herself if that is intentional or subconsciously appearing in her work.

"Growing from womanhood, there are different social constructs that tell us we are supposed to act and be, so if I had to pin a concept it would be that because it's what I'm living right now," she said. "I don't know how it wouldn't be about that."

Henrickson previously experimented with pulling her paintbrush horizontally through a figure to create the distorting lines of oil paint at other art competitions. She called it a natural progression of her previous work, which her mother Trinja sees as her daughter beginning to find the thread that will run through her work.

Ruby's parents both graduated from college with art degrees. They were always creating things together during her early childhood, and Henrickson said that supportive environment helped foster her interest in art.

"She is so close to the process and new to it, but I see from my experience from an artist that she is finding her first body of work," Trinja said. "She's working through the concept. That's my perception as a mom and as an artist. When you're so close to the process it's hard for her to explain."

Her daughter is still unsure of herself. Under the direction of John Lipa, her art instructor at Ludington High School, Henrickson had competed in regional shows at West Shore Community College in Scottville. 

Lipa said he wanted to expose her to a larger competition in a similar way to the students he coached at track and field would experience at state meets.

"My goal was to stay on top of it, because I want her to have a little more exposure, she's so talented," Lipa said. "I never suggested it to our other students."

Though she had the faith of her teacher and family, Henrickson herself admits she didn't think she had a shot at winning.

"I entered because Mr. Lipa forced me to," she said. "I was not really interested in competing in shows outside of my county and he told me about this. I thought I didn't really have a chance."

Congressman Bill Huizenga met with the Top 10 finalists at the Tri-Cities Historical Museum in Grand Haven last month. The finalists were comprised of four students from West Ottawa High School, three students from Zeeland Public Schools and one student from both Holland Christian High School and Fremont High School.

Henrickson said she was "super humbled" when she was announced as the winner.

"Congratulations to Ruby on winning the 2016 Congressional Art Competition for Michigan's Second Congressional District. Ruby's oil on canvas clearly displays her skill, as well as the time and effort she poured into creating such an incredible piece," Huizenga said. "'Static' is a tremendous example of the creativity and innovation we are so fortunate to have here in West Michigan. I am glad to see Ruby's talent will be shared with the thousands of people who visit the U.S. Capitol over the coming year."

"Static" will be hung at the U.S. Capitol for the next year along with the winning pieces from each congressional district across the country.

Henrickson will also be honored at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. along with other talented artists from around the nation.

"It's important to have a creative outlet, especially when you're an adolescent and being able to excel in that helps," she said.

For details on how to participate in next year's Congressional Art Competition, call (616) 570-0917.

Malachi Barrett made macaroni art that was never put on the refrigerator. He also covers community news for MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @PolarBarrett or on Facebook.

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