Coulaj Eans won the Best of Show award in this year's "Top of the Middle" art competition for junior high and middle school artists in Jefferson County, according to Pat Sheffield, chairman of the annual event. Coulaj, a student at Watson Chapel Junior High School, won the top award from among 50 students.

The winning painting was the first abstract ever to receive the top award, according to Sheffield.

"We were instructed to think of an emotion that was very important to us and try to show that in an abstract way," Coulaj said at the awards ceremony. "If you look hard, you will see the word LOVE," he added.

The annual exhibit and reception is part of the Pine Bluff Art League's community service. Each year schools submit their 10 best works to be judged by members of the league. Each league member can vote for their own top 10 choices for the best in the entire show. Each school receives recognition for its top two pieces of art. The one selection which receives the most votes in the entire exhibit receives the blue ribbon award, according to Sheffield.

The works are exhibited in the atrium of the Donald W. Reynolds Community Center for a week prior to the reception, according to a league spokesman.

"The public is often surprised that work is produced by such young students, usually 13 or younger. Their work is sometimes portraits or detailed drawings of animals, both considered advanced art work," Sheffield, a retired art teacher, added.

League members prepare refreshments for the artists, their families and friends.

"Some family members come from as far away as Dallas, St. Louis and Baton Rouge to support these young artists," Vickie Coleman, league president, added.

The top two artists for each school are as follows:

Dollarway, first-place winner Dannique Martin, second-place winner Laila Baker; Jack Robey, first-place winner Acciyah Reynolds, second-place winner Takiyah Rivers; Ridgway, first-place winner Jayden Martin, second-place winner Stella Render; Watson Chapel, first-place winner Coulaj Eans, second-place winner, Paige Bouille; White Hall, first-place winner, Kalwine Anjolok, second-place winner Emily Granderson.