Lauren Wagner, a sophomore at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School won this year’s Congressional Art Competition for her watercolor painting, “Boat in the Ocean.”


Lauren Wagner, a sophomore at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School won this year’s Congressional Art Competition for her watercolor painting, “Boat in the Ocean.”



Originally painted for a classroom assignment to express Florida through paint, art teacher Julie Hodges enjoyed the vivid colors of the piece and submitted it to the competition.



“I was shocked,” said Wagner of her win. “I didn’t expect it.”



For her win, Wagner received a free trip to Washington D.C. in June to see her painting as it hangs inside the Capitol Building. She’ll take her mother as her guest for the journey. Hodges is raising money to pay for Wagner’s hotel stay.



Though she has only lived in Port St. Joe for a year, Wagner has found much artistic inspiration in the area.



She has already been commissioned to do paintings of fishing boats, the George Tapper Bridge, and a local sunset over the summer months and will spend the remaining time working with local children to create art out of recycled materials.



Wagner enjoys painting with acrylics and finds herself drawn to subjects that are realistic.



The arts run in her family, it seems.



Wagner’s grandmother is fourth-grade teacher Karen Odom who works at Port St. Joe Elementary School. Also an artist, Odom encouraged her granddaughter to be creative from a young age, purchasing art supplies and canvases for the budding painter.



“I’d known Karen for years, but I didn’t know they were related,” said Hodges. “I was able to see Lauren’s talent without connecting her to a family member.”



Hodges said that Wagner is quiet and shy but art is what really opens her up.



“I’m not like everyone else,” Wagner said. “I get into my work.”



For Hodges, that’s what it’s all about.



She’s constantly looking for new ways to bring art into the classroom in order to expose students to as many mediums as possible. She hopes that they’ll find a form of self-expression that ignites a passion.



Even though Wagner didn’t feel the painting was her best work, Hodges knew it was a winner when she saw it.



“It’s been her moment,” said the teacher.