Sixteen-year-old Thomas Ralston of Cherokee High School took the top prize at an Ocean City art show last August, becoming the youngest artist to ever win the award.
Ralston had been painting for only three months before attending the show. He cited inspiration from his paternal grandmother, an artist who underwent treatment for pancreatic cancer. She informed Ralston that the Ocean City Arts Center held a national art show on the boardwalk every year and suggested he submit his paintings.
But Ralston’s enthusiasm was tempered by the unfortunate news of his grandmother’s passing one day before the art show. He discussed with his parents whether or not he should go, but ultimately decided he would do so as a tribute to his grandmother.
“I wasn’t sure if we should still go (to the art show),” Ralston said. “I thought that, to honor her, it would be the best thing to go anyway and just see what happens.”
The show requires artists to set prices for their paintings. Ralston, however, was uninterested in selling his art, so he decided to ask for higher prices to discourage potential buyers.
“I honestly wanted to keep (the paintings),” he recalled. “I wasn’t expecting to sell any of them. I just wanted people to look at them and provide feedback.
“I figured if anyone wanted to buy one of my paintings,” Ralston added, “they would pay that price because they would understand the significance of paintings to me.”
Ralston was one of more than 200 artists at the show. After speaking with the contest’s six judges, one of them congratulated Ralston and told him he had won the Ocean City Arts’ purchase award for his acrylic painting, “Invisible Prodigy.” Ralston is the youngest winner of the award in the show’s history.
“We didn’t know what (the judge) was congratulating us for,” Ralston said. “It was crazy – we really couldn’t believe it. The only thing I wish is that I could’ve seen my grandmother’s reaction …”
Ralston’s father Ed said he and his son were both shocked by the win.
“It was a feeling of, ‘What just happened?’” Ed Ralston noted. “Because he had only been painting for just three months. My mom (Thomas’ grandmother) was very much an artist, and for her to pass and for Thomas to win the art show, we kind of looked at each other like we just saw a miracle.”
In addition to winning, Ralston sold six of his paintings despite their higher price tag. He was invited back to the arts center for a “Meet the Artist” exhibit.
“Invisible Prodigy” is currently on display at the Ocean City Arts Center.