Winning piece – Bohemian Waxwing – to hang in US Capitol for one year

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From the Staten Island Advance.

16-year-old Island student’s painting to be displayed in the U.S. Capitol for one year

Jemma Parsons

“Bees” (acryllic) by Staten Islader, Jemma Parsons, who has won the 2021 Congressional Art Competition with her painting, “Bohemian Waxwing.” (Courtesy Jemma Parsons)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — High school student Jemma Parsons’ artwork will soon be hung in the U.S. Capitol!

The honor comes after the rising Xaverian High School junior garnered first place in the 2021 Congressional Art Contest, sponsored by Rep. Nicole Malliotakis. Jemma, 16, is the daughter of Jennifer and Andrew Parsons of Richmondtown. Her painting, “Bohemian Waxwing,” was selected for the top honors, to her delight.

“I was floored when Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis called me and informed us of her decision,” said Parsons. “I felt so honored and blessed to win first place. I am proud to represent Staten Island at the US Capitol. In the past, they have invited the winners to the Capitol for a ceremony.”

“Bohemian Waxwing” is made with watercolor (Pelikan, German brand) and white ink. In describing the creative process, Jemma explained: “I sketch out the scene based on reference photos of the bird and trees then lay down base layers of color.

“The bird is gradually built up into an object with depth and form; this is difficult to do with watercolor because you can’t paint over mistakes like you would with acrylic or oil. The finishing touches are the opaque white highlights in the bird’s eye.”

Jemma, an accomplished artist whose work has been shown at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden on Staten Island, said “Bohemian Waxwing Bird” was inspired by nature.

Jemma Parsons

Jemma Parsons is pictured with her parents, Andrew and Jennifer Parsons, and her brothers, Jack and Joseph Parsons. (Courtesy Jennifer Parsons)


Jemma has enjoyed painting birds from a young age. And her parents took note, enrolling her in art classes and eventually, lessons with Susan McDermott from Kids Art & Design on Staten Island.

“Since starting high school, I now work independently and have developed my own style but I continue to work with Susan when I have a project or specific piece that requires some additional guidance,” said Jemma. “I’ve had the opportunity to explore a variety of new art mediums.

“I sculpt, animate, sew, and sketch, but painting will always have a special place in my heart. It’s a challenging format but produces work that you just can’t replicate in any other medium.”

The prolific artist has a variety of birds in her collection, including partridges, blue jays, cardinals, and even chickens. The inspiration for painting the winning Bohemian Waxwing? “There’s no specific reason for choosing the bird, but I was very much captured by the colors and habitat of the waxwing,” she said, noting the winter setting also predominantly features red, white, and blue.

“The bird itself is native to northwest America, so there is an element of it being a patriotic bird, especially since it was submitted to the Congressional Art Competition.”

Jemma Parsons

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis holds Jemma Parsons’ “Bohemian Waxwing,” the winner of her Congressional Art Competition. (Courtesy Office of Rep. Malliotakis)


Jemma has attended Xaverian in Brooklyn since the sixth grade, enrolled in their Genesis Program. “I have been recognized for my talent by Mr. Patrick Matthews, Xaverian’s Art Dept. Chairman. I was very fortunate that Xaverian allowed me to participate in the high school art club when I was only in 6th grade.

“I received valuable guidance from Mr. John Hendrick and Ms. Joanna Mesiti, art teachers at Xaverian, and met so many talented artists there.” In her freshman year, Mr. Matthews lent Jemma a copy of his Gustav Dore illustrated Bible.

“Dore is my favorite artist. He’s a 19th century French printmaker known for illustrating the Bible. I like the fact that he’s able to depict religious scenes with such accuracy, despite its being an interpretation. That’s something I always go back to for reference.”

Other major artistic favorites and influences include Juanjo Guarnido, the Spanish illustrator and comic book author, notably his series “Blacksad,” a detective noir; Paul Reid, a Scottish painter inspired by Greek and Celtic mythology; and Ya Chin art, a still life painter, who specializes in textures and objects.

“The advent of social media has made these artists and their work very accessible to me and others,” added Jemma. “The process photos and advice that they share has greatly improved my technique.”

Jemma Parsons

Jemma Parsons designed Xaverian HS’s Christmas card when she was in the 8th grade. “I was really appreciative of that opportunity and painted, using acrylics, the school’s signature Clipper ship being guided by an angel to the star of Bethlehem,” she said. (Courtesy Jennifer Parsons)


Indeed, Xaverian has been a great facilitator of Jemma’s artistic career. “In 8th grade I was asked to design the school Christmas card that was mailed out to all of the families,” she said. “I was really appreciative of that opportunity and painted, using acrylics, the school’s signature Clipper ship being guided by an angel to the star of Bethlehem.”

Moreover, at Xaverian Art Club, Jemma has also worked on other important paintings, some of which she later displayed at the Snug Harbor Art Show or have featured on personal Christmas cards.

Each year, Xaverian holds an art show to display student artwork from throughout the year, which she’s also participated in. She has also volunteered for the school’s stage crew, building, designing, and painting the sets for school performances.

Jemma Parsons

Jemma Parsons poses with her beautiful paintings. (Courtesy Jennifer Parsons)


Through her role as the president of Xaverian’s Biomedical club, Jemma has cultivated an interest in biomedical science. “I believe that there is strong overlap between art and medicine; a physician friend of ours even refers to his practice as the “art of medicine,” because there is an elegance in the hands-on approach and strategy involved in treating patients,” Jemma said.

“The most direct example of that overlap is in plastic surgery, sculpting the human body, but what I am most interested in is reconstructive surgery. I’m absolutely fascinated by the science and want to be a part of the cutting edge side of medicine.”

It’s also important for Jemma to use her talents and skills she’s “been blessed with” to help others. “To me, the medical field is both exciting and challenging and I’m compelled to pursue it.”

To that end, she’s thinking of applying to universities focused on medicine, like Johns Hopkins, Stanford, NYU and the University of Oxford in England, UK.

“I have dual citizenship in the US and UK and always enjoy going back to England to visit my family. I would love the opportunity to attend university there.”

Follow Jemma Parsons: Instagram: @jemmaparsons3 and

Jemma Parsons

Jemma Parsons’ “Eagle.” (Courtesy Jennifer Parsons)

Courtesy Jennifer Parsons

Jemma Parson’s “Chicken.” 2018. (Courtesy Jennifer Parsons)

Courtesy Jennifer Parsons

Jemma Parsons poses with her beautiful paintings. (Courtesy Jennifer Parsons)