For about as long as she can remember, 16-year-old Aurora Firth has been putting pens to paper and producing beautiful artwork.
"I think I've always liked it," she said, standing in the Ben Firth Studio on the Sterling Highway a few miles south of Anchor Point. Surrounding her are examples of her father's work, along with some of Aurora's and artwork produced by mother, Melanie, and four of her five younger siblings.
It is immediately clear that talent runs in the family. Lately, at least, parts of the world have started taking notice of Aurora's.
On April 4, the Alaska unit of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that Aurora's color pencil drawing of a pair of northern shoveler ducks had won Best of Show in the 2002-03 Alaska Federal Junior Duck Stamp Competition. It is the second time Aurora has earned that honor, having also won Best of Show in the 2000-01 competition. In between, she won a first place.
Aurora's drawing was among 778 entries in four age-group categories based on school grades. What's also amazing is that not only has she won Best of Show in two of the past three years, but this year four of her five brothers and sisters also won junior duck stamp honors in their age groups.
Barnabas Firth, 13, took second place in his seventh-through-ninth-grade group. Sarah, 11, won a third place among fourth-through-sixth-graders. Silas, 8, earned a first place in the kindergarten-through-third-grade group, while Josiah, 6, won an honorable mention in the same group.
The family's youngest, Anna Firth, is only 3 and not yet eligible for the competition.
Ben Firth said he was proud of his daughter's accomplishment and that of her brothers and sisters. The children have been surrounded by art all their lives, he said.
Aurora Firth's winning entry in the Alaska Federal Junior Duck Stamp Competition.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The annual junior duck stamp art contest was launched in 1990 as a pilot program at Florida's Sanibel Island National Wildlife Refuge, according to a press release from the wildlife service. The competition soon expanded into a national conservation education program with the passage of the 1994 Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program Act.
Alaska's first contest was held two years later. The winning artwork is eligible to compete in national competition. This year's national winners will be named April 26 in Ocean City, Md. The winning artwork from the national competition is reproduced as a collector's stamp to generate money to continue this program and other environmental education initiatives, the service said.
"The duck stamp program integrates art and science to teach environmental science and habitat conservation," said Bruce Woods, a public affairs specialist with the wildlife service in Alaska. "The competition incorporates scientific and wildlife management principles and crosses cultural, ethnic, social and geographical barriers to give participating students a greater awareness of and appreciation for our natural resources.
"Students are encouraged to research their chosen species at its habitat and then incorporate the results of this research in to their art."
Ben and Melanie Firth met in Pennsylvania where they both grew up. They moved to Alaska in 1984, but returned to Pennsylvania in 1986 where they stayed nine years before moving back to Alaska to Fairbanks. Two years ago, they moved the family to Anchor Point.
Melanie Firth attends to the education of her children. She, too, loves art, expressing herself in glass etchings and ice carving. A timpanist, she occasionally plays with the Kenai Peninsula Orch-estra.
Aurora, who is learning to play violin, said she likes art, expects she will always draw, and perhaps even pursue it as a career. She's already had some commercial success.
"I began selling my work when I was 12 at the New Horizons Gallery in Fairbanks," she said.
Aurora said she plans to continue entering the junior duck stamp contest, for which she will remain eligible through 12th grade.
Asked what the competition meant to here, she said, "I do think it's important to raise awareness for the state of the environment, and it is a good way to get children into art."
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