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Artist throttles competition

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Since Rylie Stewart was very young, two things have had a presence in her life: appreciation for motorcycles and a love for art.

So when the opportunity came to earn scholarship money at the convergence of both, the North Medford High School senior had a quick response: “Let’s do it.”

“I thought it’d be so cool to design a (motorcycle) helmet,” Stewart said. The 21 Helmets competition, part of the 1 Moto Show held in Portland earlier this month, gave her the first chance to do so — with the additional bonus of a few thousand dollars and her second art contest win on the line.

At the show, “Rylie’s helmet won by a huge landslide,” said Paige Walker, director of the 21 Helmets contest and a contractor with See See Motorcycles, which puts on the 1 Moto Show.

See See Motorcycles has its roots in an appreciation for cycles, art and coffee, and those loves are all on display at the 1 Moto Show, which has been running for 11 years. In addition to the 21 Helmets contest, artists set up displays, creating murals and sculptures with a live audience throughout the weekend.

For longtime attenders such as Rylie Stewart’s dad, Nick, the emphasis on art has played a big role in the overall attraction of the event.

“I think that’s why I prefer that show so much,” he said. “It’s nice to have these other facets to it so it’s not just a bunch of guys looking at motorcycles.”

That her father was the one who first encouraged Rylie to submit a design for the 21 Helmets contest is one instance of the influence he’s had on her growth as an artist throughout her life. As the owner of Stewart Media, his passions for design and motor vehicles provided foundations for Rylie to begin and keep exploring her passion for art since she was a child.

Before Rylie entered kindergarten, Nick would often take her to work with him. Inspired by the drawings around the shop, she spent a lot of that time with her crayons.

Her early interest and talent wasn’t further catapulted and molded by formal instruction until she began taking art classes in middle school, however.

From that point on, Nick said, “She picked it up instantly. She was born to be an artist.”

Rylie has especially been attracted to drawing and watercolor. Making the helmet using airbrushes was a new challenge.

Because the Biltwell helmet from See See Motorcycles had to be mailed a farther distance from Portland to reach her, and the same long distance back, Rylie had a little less time than the other 10 student finalists to finish her helmet over Christmas break.

At first, she practiced airbrushing on a cardboard box at Stewart Media. After a few tries, she approached the helmet to recreate the design she had submitted to See See.

That design, which eventually won her the grand prize, was what initially opened the gate for her to enter the 21 Helmets contest. Walker said she had originally targeted only students in the Portland area for entries.

When Walker emailed Jeri Childress in the North Medford Tornado Future Center to verify that Rylie attended the school, she wrote that her submission stood out.

“She clearly put thought into her design, and was one of the only applicants who went into an explanation of how she would take her design and transform it into reality,” Walker wrote to Childress. Rylie’s entry was a bit of an unexpected twist to Walker, who had focused her call for submissions among Portland schools only.

“I just honestly didn’t even know the reach was going to be that far,” she said.

Weeks later, as Rylie’s helmet stood on display alongside the entries from other student finalists at the 1 Moto Show, voters expressed a similar enthusiasm for Rylie’s design, from the striking color scheme to the playfulness of the tentacles that stretched from the left side of the helmet around to the front and the opposite side.

“Tentacles,” the name of Rylie’s design, featured a turquoise-and-orange octopus. Although an octopus painted on the side of her dad’s business may have somewhat seeped into her subconscious, Rylie said she has always loved both sea creatures and the color scheme she chose.

“I just really like turquoises and oranges, because they complement each other really well,” she said.

This was the first year that the 21 Helmets contest included scholarship money for the student prizewinners. The money was raised through an auction of 10 other helmets designed by professional artists — rounding out the number in the contest’s name.

Rylie took home half the money raised: $1,500. The other half was distributed to the second and third-place finishers.

Her win in Portland, which put her helmet on display for the next year at See See Motorcycle’s Portland coffeeshop, was the second time that her art skills had earned her scholarship money. She took home best in show at a contest in Coos Bay, which won her a scholarship to Southwestern Oregon Community College.

Though she considered the offer, she eventually chose Southern Oregon University as a more economical option. She’ll live at home to save on living expenses.

When it comes to her future, Rylie is looking to fill the gap in art instruction: She’ll pursue a career in elementary education, she said.

“With her art skills, I think she would be a great teacher,” said Nick Stewart.

Art teacher Nance Louise said the decision aligns with the leadership she’s seen from Rylie in the classroom.

“I’m moved by the fact that she’s going to step into elementary,” Louise said. “She’s choosing to step into something that’s challenging. ... So I’m really moved by this choice.”

For the student who loves her child development classes and spreading a love of art, there’s also another, simpler reasoning.

“I think I just don’t want to be a starving artist,” she said with a laugh.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

[Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune] North Medford High School senior Rylie Stewart works on an art project Thursday. Stewart recently won a $1,500 scholarship in a Portland art contest that incorporated her appreciation of motorcycles.
Rylie Stewart, a senior at North Medford High School, paints on a motorcycle helmet a design that won her first prize at the 21 Helmets contest held in Portland. Inspired by a love of sea creatures, she created a turquoise and orange octopus, calling the piece "Tentacles." Photo courtesy of Rylie Stewart.