Emmett O'Ryan Award

Artistik Approach at Artspace Lofts
photo: Alyssa Kelley

Emmett O'Ryan Award for Artistic Inspiration

The Emmett O’Ryan Award for Artistic Inspiration is given annually by Renasant Bank 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 comprising members of ArtsMemphis' Artist Advisory Council, along with members of the community.  

Award recipients are selected by Renasant 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. 

2018 Emmett O'Ryan Award Winner | Gerard Harris

Gerard Harris, eighth recipient of the annual Emmett O’Ryan Award for Artistic Inspiration, possesses a multifaceted career, birthed in music and sustained by art. An accomplished guitarist and keyboardist, Mr. Harris toured eight years with the famed band, Kool & the Gang, appearing on two of their albums.  An University of Memphis alumnus, Mr. Harris returned home, becoming the university’s first jazz guitar instructor, in addition to teaching piano and choir at Middle College High School. Although he can still be found playing guitar at venues around Memphis, concern for his community transformed what was once a long-time passion for creating visual art into a motivating proponent of public art.

Noticing gang graffiti taking his son to and from school, Mr. Harris singlehandedly began to paint over the offending messages, only to find them tagged yet again on following days.  He soon elevated his coats of paint to murals instead, eventually bringing a halt to the offensive tagging.  Mr. Harris’ belief that every child should live in a community that encourages them, is a core motivation in his public art endeavors.  His work can be found throughout neighborhoods in Memphis, and most recently was featured in a number of scenes during recent filming of The Brian Banks Story, directed by Tom Shadyac.  The selection committee noted particular interest in Mr. Harris’ focus on his community and his intention to utilize the award honorarium to create job opportunities for youth to assist in the production of more murals. 

Top Right Picture: 2018 Emmett Awardee Gerard Harris with Renasant Bank President Philip May

Bottom Left Picture: Gerard Harris Mural on Lamar Ave


The Other Two Finalists for this Year’s Emmett Award:

Mark Nowell is a Memphis sculptor who has been creating sculptures since early childhood. Focused in metal art beginning in high school and graduating top of his class from a two year welding course, Nowell has exhibited since 1985 in group and individual shows in Memphis, Nashville, and Chicago. The sculptures reflect a work from tabletop pieces to large scale public art works.

Veda Reed graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Memphis College of Art in 1956. Inspired by her childhood in Oklahoma, her works reflect her continuing investigation of the spiritual dimension in art, her lifetime search for truth and beauty, a spiritual journey she maintains is still in progress. Her work is featured in the collections of Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis College of Art, and The State of Tennessee Fine Arts Collection among many other.


Emmett O'Ryan

Emmett’s career began in the commercial printing industry in the 1980's when he bought a Memphis-based screen printing company, Ad South. He won numerous awards for artistic excellence in this field, and he served on the board of the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA) for 20 years. He was a volunteer on the School Art board for the Mid South Fair for 25 years and he designed and donated posters for The Liberty Bowl and other local charities. His passion for art and life were evident in every aspect of his life:  Emmett and his wife Sara were avid art collectors, he played guitar, was a scuba diver, snow skier, vintage car collector, and traveled and visited art museums around the world.  At the time of his death, Emmett was studying sculpture and pursuing an MFA at Memphis College of Art. 


Past Emmett Award Winners

2017 | Carl E. Moore

Carl E. Moore, is best known for his vivid, high-contrast paintings, focusing on challenging racial and ethnic stereotypes.  His subjects are often shown in moments of peril or distress, sometimes in urban environments, and he frequently uses a bold graphic style, with thick, arresting lines that call to mind commercial illustration. Moore is widely recognized for helping to strengthen the local artist community and for mentoring emerging artists.  He has curated over 80 shows and his work has been displayed at numerous venues including the L. Ross Gallery, the Dixon Gallery, and Crosstown Arts.

2016 | 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.

2015 | 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 | 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 | 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 | 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 | 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.

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