Left to right: Aaron Bower, Congressman Scott Franklin, Leah Baker, Dr. Alex Rich and Principal Gary Graham celebrate Baker’s accomplishment.

By Lily Belcher

On May 10, Durant High School sophomore Leah Baker was recognized for her painting, Rocket Pup, which she created in memory of her dog, Rocky, an American bulldog, who recently passed away.

The painting was submitted to the Congressional Art Competition and selected by the curator of the Polk Museum of Art, Dr. Alex Rich, and Congressman Scott Franklin as the best art piece submitted in Florida’s 15th congressional district. As part of the recognition, Rocket Pup will hang in the hallway of Congress in Washington D.C. for the next year.

The Congressional Art Competition was started in 1982 to recognize the accomplishments of high school students across the nation each spring. The artists must follow the specific size and weight guidelines and submit their pieces to their representative’s office to be judged by a panel of district artists.

“Winning really means a lot to me because of how happy it made my dad that Rocky’s portrait is going to be hung in Congress,” said Baker.

Baker dedicated the portrait in memory of her dog to her father.

“My dad was Rocky’s favorite person,” explained Baker. “After he died, I didn’t really know how to comfort my dad any other way besides through art.”

The abstract piece features patriotic elements, such as the title, which represents the fireworks shot off on Independence Day every summer, as well as the colors from the American flag. She chose to make the piece patriotic to further dedicate her work to her father, who has worked for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office for 25 years.

As she constructed the piece, she was guided by Durant’s 2D art teacher, Aaron Bowers, who has taught her for the last two years. Baker explained that Bowers was very excited for her and she was grateful for his help.

“Aesthetically, it was very nice to look at. It was balanced [and] had vibrant colors. She has stories behind it, so it had actual meaning,” said Bowers. “It’s a huge honor. That fact that she won was exciting, to say the least.”

For more information about the Congressional Art Competition or to view the other winning pieces, visit house.gov/educators-and-students/congressional-art-competition.

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