In Visual Arts, the winner is Stacey Johnson of Pass Christian for her sculpture exhibit, Storytellers. Johnson, a Yazoo City native, grew up playing in cotton trailers, making mud forts, and riding horses, which were important influences on her storytelling in clay. She says, “Each sculpture is a chapter in a book that I edit, color, and scribble upon . . . like a diary of unspoken thoughts, remnants of dreams.” She works in clay because it is a “forgiving, expressive medium,” and she works with female figures because women have always been storytellers and “keepers of wisdom.” The clay figures, full of vivid personalities, push against stereotypes and portray bold, complex figures. Johnson holds an MFA in ceramic sculpture from the University of Georgia and a BFA from Loyola University. She is a two-time recipient of a Mississippi Arts Commission artist fellowship. She is a member of Local Creatives, a networking group on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and teaches art at Coast Episcopal School in Long Beach, Mississippi. Recipient’s remarks: What a lovely and unexpected honor to receive the MIAL Visual Arts Award! The happy news came to me while buying art supplies for budding art students, and I had cause to reflect on my own love of art making, which began in the Mississippi Delta. What a beautiful, unique, and historic environment we are fortunate to call home! Rich soils, vibrant music, and a literary landscape overflowing with talent lend inspiration on every sensory level. One could spend a lifetime absorbing the tiniest details for creative translation. My attachment to clay as an art medium began so long ago, and it only seems fitting that this friendship has been alongside me throughout my creative journey. I began life playing in Mississippi mud, and I happily continue to do just that! I offer my sincerest thanks to the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters and the Board of Governors for this award, and I extend my deepest appreciation to an organization that supports and recognizes the significance of the arts in our state. In selecting Johnson for this award, Judge David Butler wrote, “I was honored to be given the pleasant but extremely difficult task of selecting just one artist from a very strong group of nominees. Stacey Johnson was not my original choice, but I couldn’t get her haunting ceramic figures out of my head. Eventually I had to surrender. Her sculptures are not pretty, but they are profoundly beautiful. With their rough, imperfect surface, in which we sense so vividly the presence of the artist’s hand at work, Johnson’s figures hint at violence and trauma overcome, and they project a profound pride and dignity. These expressive and powerful sculptures attest to the continued viability of the figure in the twenty-first century (something, to be honest, I needed to be reminded of), and the richly expressive potential of clay. Mississippi, a state so amply endowed with talented visual artists, should be proud of Stacey Johnson.” David Butler joined the Knoxville Museum of Art as executive director in 2006 after serving as the director of the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University, the Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana, and the Emerson Gallery at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in art history from Florida State University and received his PhD in art history from Washington University in St. Louis.