Zoe Tjanavaras had a feeling she had won.
"I had no idea, I just had this weird feeling I was going to win," she says of her entry in the ceramics section of the Muswellbrook Art Prize this year. "When I made the finalist list, I rang mum and dad and just burst into tears.
"I even visualised what I was going to wear, I had imagined I was wearing these earrings (Tjanavaras is the maker of Oscar & Matilda jewellery) and I was going to get this giant cheque."
Tjanavaras won the ceramic section and she wore those earrings, but there was no giant cheque. "I'm still waiting for the cheque." she laughs "My parents were with me on the night ... it was really lovely to have them there to share the moment. It was very surreal, so bizarre and then there was hardly anyone there because of COVID-19."
This year marks the 47th acquisitive Muswellbrook Art Prize for painting ($50,000), works on paper ($10,000) and ceramics ($10,000) at Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre.
The prize started in 1958 as an acquisitive painting prize, in 1965 it added a works on paper section and in 1971, the ceramics section. The prize has acquired over 200 artworks for the Muswellbrook Shire Art Collection.
Muswellbrook arts centre director Elissa Emerson says, "It's the anticipation that we're going to acquire new works, you never know which way the adjudicator is going to take it, you don't know if we're going to end up with an emerging artist or someone who is more established. That is interesting in itself, and then if it's a more established artist, it's very exciting to get their works in the collection."
Emerson has worked at the Muswellbrook arts centre for eight years and became the director this year. She has seen the prize change from bi-annual to annual, and the main prize boosted from $20,000 to $50,000.
This year Emerson was part of the selection committee for the finalists along with arts writer Sonia Legge and artist Travis Devries.
Emerson recalls Tjanavaras's winning piece Parched Abundance, 2019, commenting, "I do remember us talking about it, it was something that stood out."
Tjanavaras's winning work was made during her night classes at Kara Wood Ceramics with Helen Dunkerley as her teacher.
"I have had other teachers, but mostly Helen. She is like a mentor to me," Tjanavaras says. "Helen is great!"
Tjanavaras expands on her opinion: "Helen never says no, she never says its not going to work. She always says, 'we'll try and see, if it doesn't work we'll try it this other way.'
"Helen is always very encouraging which I really appreciate. Helen was a finalist in the Muswellbrook Art Prize as well - 20 years ago. It's really nice I have a teacher that you sync with, you understand the language they are teaching. I feel I have that with Helen."
Parched Abundance is made from reclaimed stoneware and texturised using a combination of under and silica glazes. It portrays "the cracked earth, scorched ground, burnt out crisped vegetation" of the landscape between Newcastle and her hometown of Tamworth while the emptiness of the vessel symbolises "a deep void of anxiety but also hope of being refilled".
Tjanavaras grew up in Tamworth, detoured to Brisbane and now calls Newcastle home.
Many Novacastrians would be familiar with her sparkly, colourful, dangly Oscar & Matilda earrings, many would recognise her from the local art store where she works.
Few would know she completed her B.Fine Arts over a decade ago and has been consistently making artwork while running Oscar & Matilda and working.
"After I won, it put everything into perspective and realised I shouldn't put myself down all the time. I just should create more and have an exhibition." Tjanavaras says.
"It was validation, I really should be doing something with it. Even before I entered I was making for an exhibition, I just didn't know where or when ... I have asked Helen but nothing has been arranged, so maybe that will happen."
Due to COVID-19, the Muswellbrook Art Prize and the voting for People's Choice has been extended to the end of June., You can view and vote via social media (Instagram and Facebook @muswellbrookartscentre) and the gallery website (muswellbrookartscentre.com.au).
There is catalogue online at flipsnack.com/muswellbrookregionalartscentre/map-2020-exhibition-catalogue/full-view, which includes all the finalist works and their artist statements.
Find Zoe Tjanavaras on Instagram @hellozoet.