Socastee High School senior Dawson Bell “didn’t know [the Congressional Art Competition] was a thing,” so when he won, he literally couldn’t believe it.

“I was sitting on my couch when I got a text and I didn’t really believe it,” he says about getting the news.

“It’s still really crazy to me, and I just now started realizing how big it really is.”

The two-dimensional art competition was open to all high school students in Congressman Tom Rice’s 7th District.

Rice chose the winning piece, which will be displayed at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. in the Cannon Tunnel, for a year.

The Cannon Tunnel connects the Cannon House Office Building with the U.S. Capitol, and is, the application information says, “often traversed by Congressmen and women.”

One reason Bell’s art teacher, Kelley French, chose the acrylic fingerpaint depiction of Dawson fishing is its relevance to the Grand Strand.

“It shows the rest of the United States something about our area,” French says. “We fish. We live at the ocean. This is a pastime for our children and it makes bonds between parents and children and grandparents and children. It represents our area.”

It’s personal for the 17-year-old Litchfield resident too.

“I used to go fishing all the time with my Dad, almost every other weekend, at the pier,” he says. “He taught me to clean them and cook them and it was part of our routine. Since the pier is down, we haven’t done much fishing.”

Rep. Rice chose Bell’s work “because it’s unique and it’s bright and it’s beautiful and I thought it would be very representative of our district.”

Rice says the Cannon Tunnel will hold 435 paintings, one from each congressional district.

“It’s really inspiring to see the talent of these young people. They’re all high school students, and a lot of their work is just amazing,” he says.

The work is Bell’s first fingerpainting.

“It was so much out of my comfort zone and it took so long, it took months,” he says.

“He’s meticulous,” French says about her student.

She also says he’s receptive and open-minded, and that when she gives him input, “he analyzes it to his benefit.”

That’s a mature approach to constructive criticism, the educator says, adding that Bell displayed that characteristic even in her freshman class.

If she points out a dozen ways to improve a piece of artwork, “He’ll do all of them,” French says.

“He’s persistent, which is key when you’re learning something new. He doesn’t give up.”

One of the several inspiring quotes in French’s classroom is one by Edgar Degas that says, “Art is not what you see, but it’s what you make others see.”

The young artist took that to heart when he painted his “Fishing off the Surfside Beach Pier.” It’s not just a memory for him, he also hopes it evokes good thoughts and feelings in the people who see it.

“Art is hard,” he says. “You have to look at it to see what it is now and what it can be in the future. “When you stop looking at what it is now, it becomes another experience.”

Bell, who has no siblings, is the son of Greg and Cecilia Bell. His father owns National Trader, an internet marketplace, and his mother is with global sales at IMG Hotels & Resorts.

His family moved to the area from Virginia when he was in third grade.

Bell works at Chick-fil-A where he attended the Leader Academy, and attends NewSpring Church.

Last year, he was vice president of the SHS Art Club and this year, president.

He’s in the National Honor Society, the National Art Honor Society, HOSA, DECA and FCCLA.

He’s on the varsity cross-country team, the basketball team, the varsity track team, and he’s a student trainer volunteer for the school’s JV and varsity volleyball teams.

He also periodically volunteers with the Salvation Army and the LowCountry Food Bank.

His art has been selected as part of Celebrating Art – South Book in 2018, ’19 and ’20; it’s been in the Seacoast Artist Guild’s Student Art Show; he’s been given an award for Leadership in Game Design and Animation; and he was the SHS 2020 Sweetheart King.

Thinking about a way to combine his love of art and his passion for helping people, Bell says, “If someone loses a limb, someone has to design a prosthesis for them.”

Yet his work at Chick-fil-A has birthed an interest in marketing and advertising.

And then there’s chiropractic. And he also says that because he’s enjoyed his health science classes, he’s also thinking sports medicine.

“I always want art to be part of my life,” Bell says. “Do I want it to be my job? Not necessarily, but I never want to get rid of it. I always want it in my life.”

Cecilia Bell has only accolades for her son whom she calls “an incredible kid.”

“You know [the TV program] ‘Everybody Loves Raymond?’ she asks. “Everybody who knows him really does love Dawson.”

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