“Fly Free,” by Charles Witham, a Belmont High School senior, will be displayed in Washington, D.C. (Gail Ober/Lacona Daily Sun)
By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
BELMONT — High School Senior Charlie Witham said he was "shocked" Tuesday night when he won the Congressional Art Award for the state's 1st Congressional District.
Witham entered his oil-on-canvas self portrait "Fly Free" as one of about 30 students who hoped for the chance to have their artwork on display for a year in the Cannon Tunnel that runs underground between the U.S. Congress and the Library of Congress in the nation's capital.
A black-and-white painting of himself with three purple finches flying free near his head, Witham said Congressman Frank Guinta (R-NH) told him that it was one of the most loved paintings of his New Hampshire staff.
Judging was done by the New Hampshire School of Art, and, along with a college scholarship, Witham will be flown along with a guest to Washington, D.C., and given a personal tour by Guinta. He said he doesn't know exactly who he will take with him but said his family is planning a camping trip near there during that week in late June and he expects to spend time with them in the capital city.
Winning the Congressional Art Contest was the second feather in this budding artist's cap this month because he also won an award for his five-painting collection on insecurities that he submitted to the Anna Lee Thorndike competition held at the Belknap Mill.
He said the five oil-on-canvas paintings for the Belknap Mill competition represented addiction, sexuality, abuse, mental illness and physical beauty.
"I like painting in black and white with a splash of color," said Witham, adding that he is most influenced by Maine artist Rob Sullivan who taught at one point in his life at the New Hampshire Art Institute. "I love purple. It's so rich and vibrant."
Of all of the artist mediums, he prefers oils. He stretches his own canvases – something he credits art teacher Joseph Cilley with teaching him. Witham also credits his classmates in his art classes with providing him support, constructive criticism and friendship.
Mostly, he credits his family. He said his mother and his grandmother are both artists and both taught art at one point in their lives. The photograph of him that he used as an image of himself for "Fly Free" was from one taken by his sister.
"My mom is a huge support," Witham said. "She's one of my biggest influences in my life, my rock and my biggest critic."
Witham said his "fourth great-grandfather" was Danial Chester French, who was an Exeter artist who was well-known in his own right and one of two designers of the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial.
For his future, he hopes to become an artist who works are shown in museums and art shows. An honor student, Witham is torn between the New Hampshire Institute of Art and the Maine College of Art, but knows he wants to stay local.
Over the summer, he said he plans on working on his college portfolio and working two jobs to pay for the art supplies he needs.
"I'm excited," Witham said. "Winning this award his one of the proudest moments of my life. Hopefully, (it's) the first of many."
Charles Witham poses with "Abuse" in the art room at Belmont High School. He is the recently winner of the Congressional Art Award for Congressional District 1 in New Hampshire and his painting "Flying Free" (Laconia Daily Sun Photo - Gail Ober)