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When Lois Wightman first enrolled in a digital photography class at Washtenaw Community College, she was simply looking to learn something creative in her retirement.

Six classes later, the Chelsea resident had work selected for exhibit at the prestigious ArtPrize, a city-wide art festival and competition in Grand Rapids.

“This has been a very surprising journey for me,” Wightman said. “Exhibiting my work was not a goal I had when I started. I wanted to learn to create something beautiful, and the audience was going to just be myself.”

Her audience is considerably larger now. ArtPrize draws more than a half million visitors and has been recognized as the most-attended public art event in the world.

Wightman’s selected work was titled “Twilight to Dawn,” a 45-inch by 45-inch print of a composite of 12 photographs she took at various places in Death Valley, Calif.

The image was created for a Portfolio Projects class under the direction of WCC Digital Media Arts faculty member Terry Abrams.

“The class is really about thinking how you want to display and present an image. How do you want to communicate what you’re doing?” Wightman said. “Out of that inspiration, I came up with this idea of the circle of time, a circle of fading light and emerging light.”

It was Abrams who suggested that Wightman enter it for ArtPrize consideration.

“Never having thought of herself as ‘ready to exhibit’ her photography, this was a major step for Lois and excellent confirmation of her creative photography,” Abrams said.

ArtPrize stretches over 165 venues throughout downtown Grand Rapids. Artists from 41 states and 40 countries were eligible to win a $200,000 award based on public votes while a jury awarded another $200,000 prize.

Wightman’s work was selected for display at Boardwalk Condominiums, a renovated former furniture factory. Wightman said her work fit well with the location’s theme of renewal.

Asked if being selected for exhibit by an international art show has changed how she’ll approach her relatively new hobby in the future, Wightman says she isn’t sure.

“This is definitely a new open door, but I don’t know where it will lead,” she said. “But it certainly is a remarkable thing to be here now after starting out six classes ago just trying to learn a camera.”

See Wightman’s artwork at


This story first appeared on News & Events.