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CHAL Hosts Online ‘Meltdown’ Reception

At its first ever virtual reception Saturday, June 27, Capitol Hill Art League (CHAL) named Rindy O’Brien the winner of its juried exhibition. 

Juror John Coppola selected 29 artists to exhibit in the show, which was themed ‘Meltdown.’ Though CHAL members selected the theme over a year ago, installation coordinator Karen Zens said uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic made ‘Meltdown’ an especially fitting theme. 

“We certainly had no idea how apropos this theme would be,” Zens said. “I think we were thinking that it might be ice cream cones and nuclear reactors. But, of course, then came the pandemic.”

Coppola, who served as the director of the Office of Exhibits Central at the Smithsonian Institution, said he selected winning works based on technical proficiency and adherence to the theme. Beyond those guidelines, he said his favorite works represented ‘Meltdown’ — a “topic that we are still processing” — in a previously unseen way. 

Coppola selected five winning works. All 29 pieces are available for viewing on CHAL’s website.

First Prize: Lost by Rindy O’Brien

Rindy O’Brien was selected in first place for her photograph, ‘Lost’ (above). She said the image emerged spontaneously. 

Before the pandemic, O’Brien was photographing a group of models when one found a lampshade while walking in a wooded area. When mosquitoes swarmed O’Brien and the model, the model covered her head with the shade and O’Brien captured the moment. 

O’Brien said the photo embodied her feelings toward COVID-19. 

“As the pandemic has gone on and on, I have many a day felt like I wanted to put a lampshade on my head,” she said. “This image kept coming back to me when I heard about ‘Meltdown.’”

The Lonely Man Was Blessed with Wisdom

The Lonely Man Was Blessed With Wisdom to the Point of Desperation, J. Jaffery

Coppola said the “sense of drowning” J Jaffery conveys in the work selected for second place, “The Lonely Man Was Blessed with Wisdom to the Point of Desperation”, is a common feeling as the pandemic persists. Jaffery said the challenges of COVID-19 have guided his work over the past few months. 

“It’s so difficult to convey the depths of our feelings as we grapple with the enormous challenges we’re all facing,” Jaffery said. To convey, without words, a sense of our shared pain and grief and confusion and hope is what I was working to achieve with this piece.”

Third Prize: Tidal Basin Morning by Judy Searles

Tidal Basin Morning, Judy Searles

Searles used acrylic paint, acrylic skins and copper colored ink to depict cherry blossom trees that line the Tidal Basin. 

“My art just kind of grows,” Searles said. “I was having fun with colors and letting things drip.”

Coppola called the image beneath and pink and white flowers “menacing,” adding that it evoked crowds that were “clogging” the Tidal Basin after the National Cherry Blossom Festival was canceled in March. 

Honorable Mentions

TARQUIN AND LUCRETIA (After Tintorreto) No. 3 by Kim DiDonato-Murrell 

TARQUIN AND LUCRETIA (After Tintorreto) No. 3, Kim DiDonato-Murrell



All images appear courtesy CHAL. You can view all 29 works here. More information about upcoming shows is available on CHAL’s website at www.caphillartleague.org.

Eva Herscowitz is a journalism student at Northwestern University currently interning with the Hill Rag. She writes for Northwestern’s student newspaper, The Daily Northwestern. You can reach her at eva@hillrag.com

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