Emmett O'Ryan Award for Artistic Inspiration


The Emmett O’Ryan Award for Artistic Inspiration is given annually by Metropolitan Bank and Butler Snow LLP to an outstanding visual artist. The award is named in honor of Emmett O'Ryan, a founding Board Member of Metropolitan Bank.

Nominees are selected by a committee comprised of members of the Artist Advisory Council and members of the community.  

Award recipients are selected by Metropolitan Bank in concert with leaders of the Artist Advisory Council - an initiative of ArtsMemphis that aims to strengthen our visual arts community through individual grants and professional development programs. 

The 2017 Emmett Award winner will be announced on April 6, 2017.

Emmett O'Ryan

Emmett O'Ryan began his career in the commercial printing industry in the 1980's when he bought a Memphis-based screen printing company, Ad South. He won countless awards for artistic excellence in his field. He served on the board of the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA) for 20 years.

His artistic passion extended to all areas of his life. Emmett served as a volunteer on the School Art board for the Mid South Fair for 25 years. He designed and donated posters for The Liberty Bowl and other local charities. Emmett and his wife Sara were avid art collectors. At the time of his death, he was studying sculpture and pursuing an MFA at Memphis College of Art. He played guitar, was a scuba diver, snow skier, vintage car collector, and traveled to visit art museums around the world.

2017 Emmett O'Ryan Award Nominees

Maritza Davila 

The thread that runs through my work is the collection of experiences that, through blood and culture, make me who I am. My work reflects these histories and choices bound up in the qualities of my essential self. I use frames within frames, house shapes, arches, doorways, lace patterns text as a landscape of metaphors for home and the journeys in life related to ancestry, memories, family, politics and the spiritual. I interpret these elements using diverse print techniques and in a variety of media and the book format. These expressions lend themselves especially well to original multiples, which are inherently flexible and well suited to propagating the concept. In artwork that celebrates the past, creates in the present and records for the future, time thus becomes the element that binds medium and concept.

Carl E. Moore

The work I’ve created over the last few years has dealt with identity and color. During this process my goal was too compare social ideologies about race, ethnic stereotypes, and belief systems to everyday colors and the perception of these colors in our environment. I try to express past and current events in their simplest form, by taking characters and/or situations and reducing them down to their most basic meaning. By doing this, I use color and content to reintroduce the characters back into a conversation with an emotional context. Color plays a big part in how we see, by using color as part of a social dialogue, the content and/or character are put back into the environment as a social statement.

In my process, Black has always been a color of identity for Black people, Black American, African American, Negro etc. Just as White, for Caucasian or those of European descent, Red as a color for Native Americans (Also deemed as inappropriate) and Brown for the Latino population. The color black has always had a negative representation as it’s been related to death, bad or poor quality and even race. I’ve taken the color black and placed it back into the environment, and used it as part of an emotional conversation. The goal is to make the dialogue or message in the artwork more important than the color of the characters, even though the characters are part of the narrative.

I consider my work to be a form of visual communication using simplicity and depth to express social and ethical issues. My goal is to create a conversation between both the personal and public by using color and composition to express mood, situation and ideas. By placing people and objects in common and uncommon places, it allows me to deal with specific subjects from various

Jennifer Sargent

Color and pattern and their inter-related meanings are the muscle and bone of my visual language. I make drawings and woven tapestries to imply and investigate narratives of order and disruption, tearing and mending, substance and shadow.

In my work drawing and weaving complement each other, the former allowing a freer, relatively quicker way of working, the latter allowing time for an idea to unfold and deepen. Paramount to understanding and developing these ideas is the inseparable connection of handwork to meaning. Moving between drawing and weaving and working in series, gives me a more complete understanding of the thoughts underlying my artwork.

Photos below are from visits with the artists and the committee comprised of Metropolitan bank representatives and relatives of Emmett O’Ryan, who select the award winner each year.

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2016 Emmett Award: Beth Edwards

Beth Edwards received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Tyler School of Art and her Master of Fine Arts from Indiana University. She is represented by the David Lusk Gallery in Memphis and the Tory Folliard Gallery in Milwaukee. Her work is in numerous public and private collections including the Howard and Judith Tullman Collection in Chicago, the Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis and the Tennessee Arts Commission in Nashville. Her work was featured three times in New American Paintings and was on the cover twice. She has been a fellow at the MacDowell and Yaddo artist colonies and was the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship and an ArtsMemphis Arts Accelerator Grant. Visit Beth's website to learn more>>

Learn more about the 2016 Emmett Awards >>

2015 Emmett Award: Frank D Robinson, Jr.

Frank D. Robinson Jr. is the recipient of the fifth annual Emmett O’Ryan Award for Artistic Inspiration, given by Memphis-based Metropolitan Bank to a local artist whose original work indicates continued artistic significance. Robinson, was nominated for the award by Memphis Brook Museum of Art. The award comes with a $2,000 cash award and the nominating organization receives $500. Mr. Robinson’s work is created in various mediums, including paint, pencil, markers, and interesting objects he happens to find. Mr. Robinson’s addresses many relevant social issues, reminding us that art has the ability to convey powerful messages and to address the need for social change.

2014 Emmett Award: Leandra Urrutia

Mrs. Urrutia is an Associate Professor and Department Head for Ceramics at Memphis College of Art.  She has a BFA in Drawing and Ceramics from Southwest Texas State University, and an MFA in Ceramics from the University of Mississippi. Urrutia, three American sculptors and four master sculptors from China have developed plans for Summer 2015 called the Studio Nong Residencies. During the residency the Chinese master sculptors will be introduced to American culture and artistic traditions while also giving lectures, demonstrations and exhibitions for Memphis artists and students. Urrutia’s efforts as a Hispanic artist and faculty member help to shape and inspire future artists. 

2013 Emmett Award: Alan Spearman

Alan Spearman, a Memphis filmmaker,  received the third annual Emmett O’Ryan Award for Artistic Inspiration in February 2013. View his film As I Am.

Spearman, an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and photojournalist, made his directorial debut in 2007 with the feature film, Nobody. In 2012, he completed five short films including As I Am, a project recently named by the video-sharing website Vimeo as one of its top 12 videos of 2012. The film follows Chris Dean, the Booker T. Washington High School student who introduced President Barack Obama at his high school graduation. It is a poignant depiction of the battle of everyday life  faced by children who grow up on the streets of South Memphis.  As I Am won both the Audience Award for Hometowner Film and the Jury Award for Best Hometowner Documentary Short at the 2012 Indie Memphis Film Festival. Spearman was nominated for the Emmett O’Ryan Award by Indie Memphis.

2012 Emmett Award: Anthony D. Lee

Anthony Lee has been featured in numerous exhibitions locally and was honored by Metropolitan Bank with the Emmett O'Ryan Award for Artistic Inspiration in 2012. His Modern Hieroglyphs mural at Central Station in the South Main Arts District was recognized as one of the 40 most outstanding public art projects in the nation by Americans for the Arts for 2009. Lee’s works are on view in February at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens as a part of Present Tense: 2001-Now and Singular Masses: An Examination of Racial Identity at Memphis College of Art.

2010 Emmett Award: Mary Catherine Floyd

In 2010, Mary Catherine Floyd became the first recipient of the annual Emmett O'Ryan Award for Artistic Inspiration given by Metropolitan Bank. A former Metal Museum Blacksmith Apprentice and Artist-in-Residence, Floyd's artwork has been exhibited at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Levy Gallery, Jack Robinson Gallery, Opera Memphis and Ballet Memphis and was featured in the traveling exhibition Iron 2010. Floyd is currently drawing on her expertise and personal experiences in metal and fiber arts. Since completing her apprenticeship at the Metal Museum, Mary Catherine Floyd has been working on her jewelry line, Color Block Jewelry, and has set-up a new metal working studio located in Raleigh, North Carolina.