By Emma Castleberry
Thirteen-year-old artist Hannah Ray has been drawing since she was a toddler. “I have always liked drawing in my free time,” she says. “It helps me relax.” Her favorite media are graphite and colored pencils, and finding inspiration is never a challenge. “Creativity just comes to me naturally,” she says. “I always have a drive to draw or create something. I love coming up with new project ideas.”
Hannah, who lives with her family in Henderson County and attends Rugby Middle School, is deeply involved with the community art scene. In 2019, she participated in the “Artists of Tomorrow” Show, hosted by the Arts Council of Henderson County, where her work won first place for the middle-school category. A photograph of that piece is currently displayed on Main Street in Hendersonville on an ArtScape Hendersonville youth art banner. She attends Open Studio Art Classes offered by the Arts Council, where she also serves as a student intern. Her artwork earned a blue ribbon in her age category at the Mountain State Fair in 2018 and 2019. Hannah’s interest in art also extends beyond the sketchpad—she has been dancing with Relevé Performing Arts Center since the age of 4, and she plays the cello in the orchestra at Rugby.
Recently, Hannah entered a drawing into the design contest for the Arts Council’s 2021 Bearfootin’ Bear. “I thought it was a really good opportunity, and I wanted to try something new,” Hannah says. “It was fun coming up with designs for the bear.”
Each year, the downtown program hosts a live auction to raise funds for the Bearfootin’ Art Walk and the many nonprofits that the bears represent. Winning bids up to $3,000 are split evenly between the downtown program and the winning nonprofit, while bid amounts that exceed $3,000 are directed to the nonprofit in their entirety.
The board voted for designs with the artist’s information removed and Hannah’s was selected. She will be the youngest lead designer to participate in this public art tradition. “Hannah Ray’s bear design Harmonious Bears encompasses everything we as an Arts Council work to preserve and support, from the music that rings through the mountains to the traditions that make this area unique,” says Hannah Duncan, executive director of the Arts Council.
Hannah joins the ranks of seasoned artists who have designed past bears, including Diane Dean, Miriam Hughes, Courtney Hoelscher and Laura Bell. The Arts Council set Hannah up in a Zoom meeting with a few artists who are well-known for their bear designs, and they gave her support, encouragement and advice as she started her design. “She is walking away with something she can put on her resumé and gaining experience that goes beyond the classroom,” says Duncan. “We couldn’t be more thrilled for her.” While it was coincidental, it is fitting to have a young designer for this year’s bear, as the Arts Council has been focused on growing and expanding their Children’s Art Programming this year. “It feels like everything has come full circle in a beautiful way,” says Duncan.
The young artist is honored and pleased to have the recognition, and also recognizes the important role of her design. “I think public art is important because it shows what our community is and what we are like,” Hannah says. “It’s also a way for people to express themselves and make our part of the world more beautiful.”
The Bear Reveal event will take place on Thursday, May 13, from 5–7 p.m. at the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority (HCTDA) outdoor stage on South Main and the bear will be auctioned off in October. Proceeds will benefit the Arts Council of Henderson County and the Friends of Downtown. For more information, visit ACofHC.org.