RICHMOND, Texas — The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is right around the corner, but judging for many competitions is already over.
That's the case with this year’s student Western art competition, where some of the works are expected to fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction.
This year’s winner is no stranger to trophies.
Last year, Mia Huckman’s painting set the rodeo’s record for the highest price paid at auction for student artwork.
“Last year, I painted a cowboy on a horse with a mountain backdrop,” Huckman said. “(This year) It’s another guy on a horse, but he’s herding cows."
Huckman will graduate from Foster High School in Richmond this year, leaving as an expert at painting the modern West.
“I enjoy doing it,” Huckman said. “It’s entertaining to me. It makes me happy, basically.”
The detail is what you’d expect to find in a photograph rather than an acrylic painting: Each strand of hair on the horse’s mane; the veins in the old cowboy’s hand; the moth holes in the brim of his hat.
Huckman has placed in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s school art competition every year she's been in high school.
Photos: 2023 School Art winners
Her painting last year got second place and sold for more money at auction than the painting that won first place.
“Last year, I got reserve grand champion and I set the rodeo auction record for sales,” Huckman said. “My painting sold for $265,000.”
The way Huckman chooses her subject matter is fairly simple.
“I look at past winners and say OK, this is what tends to place high and sell well,” she said. “Our teachers have a Google drive full of photos that they’ve taken at ranches, so every year, I go through the photos and pick my top ones and ask my friends what they think is the best. And then I pick the one that I think I’m going to be able to paint the best.”
Mia is far from alone. Foster High School has developed a reputation for turning out some of the most artistically talented students in the area.
“Since the year 2000, we’ve had 13 students receive either grand champion or reserve grand champion,” Lamar Consolidated ISD director of performing and visual arts Ram Estrada said. “You know, we’re proud of that heritage and the farming and ranching history in our community … as long as they’re going to have a contest at the rodeo for school art, we’re going to be a part of it.”
The amount of money the winners get to keep is fixed, regardless of the selling price at auction. Last year, Huckman got to keep $19,000.
“It’s a check so I can do whatever I want with it,” she said.
This year, she’ll get to keep $30,000 once her painting sells at auction in March.
We’ll have to wait until then to see if she’s able to break the record she set last year.