HASTINGS — Armed with creativity and skill, young artists were challenged Friday to make an original piece of work based on three random words.

Students from 26 Nebraska high schools attended the annual Jackson Dinsdale Art Center Mural Competition at Hastings College. They had no idea what words they would have to mash up and showcase in their team’s artwork.

A member from each team plucked their words from a bowl.

Ruth Mathson was worried what her team was going to do with the ones she chose: “Medusa’s head,” “art utensils” and “coffee.”

“The first one I chose was Medusa’s head. I thought, ‘Oh, boy, what are we going to do with that?’” said Mathson, a senior at Hampton Public Schools.

She didn’t have to worry for long. When she showed the words to the rest of her team, they quickly collaborated on an idea and got to work painting on a 46-by-76 inch piece of vinyl provided by the college.

The group of six painted a coffee cup containing various art supplies like brushes and a ruler. In the center of the cup is Medusa’s head, making it appear to be a logo.

Hampton art instructor Kelsey Pralle was happy with the students’ idea and said the competition teaches them how to work as a team and adapt suggestions from each other.

Creativity really blossoms at the competition, which is what organizers hoped for when they started it three years ago.

“It’s a blast. I like walking around seeing what they are doing. They are really good,” said Tom Kreager, a Hastings College art teacher.

The event was held outside in the parking lot next to the new art center, which opened in 2016. The teams, made up of about five students each, had approximately 3½ hours to make their murals before being judged by Hastings College senior art majors.

The team from Grand Island Northwest High School was challenged with making a mural from the words “zombies,” “spaceship” and “potato chips.”

“Right away we thought of putting a zombie inside a spaceship, but we wanted to go outside the box,” said senior Ashlyn Sutherland.

Instead, they went with two zombies seated at a table, one munching on chips and another settling for a more protein-rich snack of a human arm. In the background is a spaceship driven by the “Looney Tunes” character Marvin the Martian.

Kreager said the competition provides challenges for the high school students.

“They are working in a collaboration, which when you are making art is quite a bit harder than doing it by yourself,” he said. “They also don’t know what they are going to make until they start. They have a really finite time frame to complete their pieces in.”

Students who painted the best mural are offered their own gallery show at the art center and receive a custom glass trophy created by Kreager. The second- through fourth-place teams also receive a trophy made by Kreager. Schools are allowed to take their murals with them at the conclusion of the event.

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