ANNAPOLIS – Standing in front of his charcoal drawing displayed at the back of the entry hall of the Courts of Appeal building here, 13-year-old Timothy Padilla explains the symbolism of his picture.
“That’s the Iraq flag” he says, pointing out the sleeve cuff on an arm coming into the picture from the right. Another sleeve bearing the American flag at the cuff comes into the picture from the left, and the hands clasp as they meet in the middle. A rifle with its muzzle twisted stands upright behind the shaking hands.
“The last shot was fired and the war is over,” explains Timothy, a lanky eighth-grader from Kensington who wears silver wire rim glasses and speaks softly as though he is slightly embarrassed to be discussing his art.
Timothy’s drawing was among hundreds done by students across the state playing on the theme of conflict resolution — a term for settling conflict without violence – and submitted to an art contest held in observance of Conflict Resolution Day.
The day was first observed last year and has quickly become an internationally recognized event held on the third Thursday in October. Entries were hung on two floors of the Courts of Appeal building and will be on display through December 1.
“The kids really thought about conflict resolution creatively,” said Alecia Parker, the budget and grant director of the Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office (MACRO) – the judiciary agency created by the chief judge of the Maryland court of appeals, Robert M. Bell.
“This year we really got the word out,” said Parker, who estimated that the contest received almost 400 entries this year, many more than last year’s number.
Parker said that the MACRO staff that judged the contest looked for well-executed works that clearly and creatively conveyed the theme of peaceful conflict resolution.
The judges awarded first, second and third place prizes for elementary, middle and high school age groups. A tie for third place in the middle school age group resulted in ten prizes being awarded overall.
Timothy’s charcoal won first place in the middle school category, which brought him a $75 prize. Second place winners got $50, and third place $25.
Many of the contest entries had similar messages about dealing with conflict.
“Talk it out” declared multiple artworks, as figures converse rather than resorting to blows.
“War over peace!” said others, with brightly colored peace signs decorating the text.
Some of the messages are more specific: “Saying sorry sometimes can be the hardest thing,” a student wrote in marker across one of the drawings on the honorable mention wall.
“Last year we got a lot of apology art,” said Parker.
A few of the messages even drew an inadvertent chuckle or two, “I’m a lover not a fighter,” wrote a student in blue and green bubble letters.
Antwan Walker, an eighth-grader at Thomas Johnson Middle School in Lanham, won second place with a much less conventional entry.
In the foreground of his drawing, a faceless man grasps a knife in his right hand as a female figure lies crumpled on the ground behind him.
Antwan said he wanted to tell a story in his three drawing series of a man who goes over the edge and murders his wife. Verses of poetry Antwan composed are written lightly in graphite over the violent images.
“The moral of the drawing is that you make decisions in life – you make good decisions and bad decisions and you see the effects,” Antwan said.
He said he was faced with such choices when he ran with the wrong crowd. Antwan sees art in his future and hopes to attend the visual arts magnet program at Suitland High School next year.
In a stark contrast, Antwan’s dark works are hung to the right of 6-year-old Brooklyn Poff’s crayon drawing “a world family under one sky,” titled after a song she learned in school, that shows people of many races holding hands around the globe.
“It took a whole night to do,” Brooklyn said, pointing to the yellow crayon sky. Brooklyn, who was the youngest winner, then raced off, her long dark curls flying, after two other primly dressed little girls she had just befriended at the ceremony.
Judge Bell, who spoke at the ceremony and handed out the awards to the winning students, said he was very pleased young people were getting involved in peaceful conflict resolution.
Bell said he wants to encourage dispute resolution outside the courtroom. “The courts can’t do as good a job resolving conflict as you can personally,” said Bell. “It is not a sign of weakness if you say ‘I want to work it out.'”