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Spring Hill Lions Club Peace Poster Contest Winner

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An angel of peace ascends above the earth, her flight an ethereal mission to unite all people in all nations, spreading a message of goodwill and solidarity throughout the world. This heavenly image forms the centerpiece of the winning poster in this year’s Spring Hill Nature Coast Lions Club division of the Lions International Peace Poster Contest, judged at the Spring Hill Branch Library from May 16-17th. The artist is Melanie Garcell-Gonzalez of Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics, a 13-year-old seventh-grader with a vision of world peace that made hers the winning entry in a highly competitive pool of 30 posters submitted by students ages 11-13 at D.S. Parrott Middle school, Powell Middle school, and Challenger K-8.

“Melanie’s poster was selected by a panel of judges: Mr. Isaiah Haddon, Adam Rahman, Kadin Rahman, and David Guerrero, for its originality, artistic merit, and portrayal of the contest theme ‘Dare to Dream,’” explained Zuzana Talbot with the Spring Hill Nature Coast Lions Club. “Her poster will advance through the district, multiple district, and international levels of competition. One international grand prize winner and 23 merit award winners will be selected and recognized at a special awards ceremony at Lions Day with the United Nations. Our club is cheering for Melanie as her poster advances in the competition, and we hope that her vision will ultimately be shared with others around the world.”

Melanie’s colorful poster depicts an angel wrapped in a banner of flags representing the nations of the globe. “The message of the poster is that all people in separate parts of the world can come together as one in peace,” said this Spring Hill resident.

This marks the second major art honor this year for Melanie, who is also the middle school winner of the 2023 Art in the Park Student Art Show. As was the case with her peace poster, her AITP artwork came complete with vivid, multi-colored imagery and a positive message.

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“I love the use of color and mixed media in Melanie’s winning piece from the Student Art Show, and especially appreciate the quote at the bottom, ‘Embrace what makes us beautiful.’” said Jessica Knutila, HCFAC administrative assistant. “We hope these wins encourage Melanie to do exactly that – continue self-expression through the arts and embrace what makes us unique! The Arts Council strives to support our student artists here in Hernando County, and we are very proud to see Melanie win two local art contests this year!”

“Melanie has, once again, left me stunned with their impressive art,” said Haddon, also an arts council judge. “It is genuinely wonderful how easy their work is to lose yourself in, with its unique way of allowing your eyes to dance across perfectly composed scenes. There is nothing more I want than for them to continue their journey as an artist because I will be the biggest fan in every gallery they find themselves in.” This pair of prestigious competitions marks the first public showcases of Melanie’s work. “I’d posted my art on social media before but never got this kind of response,” Melanie shared with a smile. “Now, so many more people are seeing my work.”

Melanie discovered her love for art in the first grade when an essay prompt inspired her to create a visual response. And starting in the third grade, she gave gifts of drawings to a music teacher who asked his students to show him their artistic talents. “He now has a whole stack of my artwork,” she said. “I like to express myself. I love the moment that all of my ideas come together.”

Melanie loves to make her art with pencils and pens, markers, and spotters, devoting between one and two hours per day to her creative pursuits. Many of her images center around female subjects; this owing to her strong belief in women’s empowerment and their capacity to change the world. And she is an active student in classes taught by Jennifer Radtke, a Middle School Art Teacher at Challenger K8 School of Science & Mathematics. Radtke stated, “She has so much creativity and talent, and her work has a message.”

It was Radtke who first encouraged Melanie to participate in the peace poster contest, which the Lions International Club has been organizing for more than 30 years; this is the second year that the Nature Coast Lions sponsored the competition in Hernando County. The Grand Prize winner of the International contest will receive $5,000 and a trip to an award ceremony, and 23 Merit Award Winners will receive $500 each. In addition, the Spring Hill Nature Coast Lions Club will reward the top three artists of Hernando County schools with gift cards and small prizes. Every year, more than 600,000 entries are submitted worldwide to the contest. Lions Club International is sponsoring the contest to emphasize the importance of world peace to young people everywhere.

In Hernando County, second and third place honors in the peace poster contest are shared between Mollie Surak, Challenger K-8, and Brianna Davis, Powell Middle School. Fourth and Fifth place honors are shared between Gianna Eacobacci, Challenger K-8, and Victoria Christiansen, Powell Middle School.

“These artists truly blow me away and swell my heart with joy,” said Haddon. “The intention and creativity in each individual artwork shows their connection to their work and, through various forms of composition, color palettes and imagery, they have showcased the sense of hope in the human spirit that I know they will keep alive.”

Honorable mentions in Hernando went to:
Mason Cannon Ponten, Parrot
Nicolas Elwin, Parrot
Naomi Daniels, Parrot
Aiden Streme, Parrot
Sarah Nguyen, CK8
Amelia Lyon, CK8
Kierra Ward, CK8
Maranyelis Marin, CK8
Angelina Poole, CK8
Ireland Bezares, Powell
Chloe Artt, Powell
Aowyn Cornell, Powell
Avont Martin, Powell

Ultimately, Melanie Garcell-Gonzalez doesn’t wish to change minds with her art, but to bring about peace of mind through her creative efforts. “I want people to be more accepting and understanding of other people’s views,” she said. “There is no right or wrong. We need to be at peace.”

Melanie Garcell-Gonzalez
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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