Tammy Phillips

Tammy Phillips stands in front of Morris Morgan's painting after the third Morris Morgan Writing Challenge. This is the last one she will host, since she is moving to Montana. Kris Capps/News-Miner

FAIRBANKS — The final Morris Morgan Writing Challenge was a very special one.

Nancy Castle’s essay won the top prize. She entered the contest twice previously and knew Morgan personally.

She was totally shocked to be named the winner. She and her husband own WN Salvage Recyclers on Dennis Road in North Pole.

What made the three Morris Morgan writing challenges so unique is that no experience was required to enter, and entries were allowed to be fact or fiction, short or long, poetry or prose.

“There is no word limit to this challenge,” the organizer said. “We appreciate that some stories take more words than others to tell.”

I was the judge for this final challenge and was grateful there were fewer than 10 entries. Judges of the previous challenges — Kes Woodward and Ray Sandburg — had a much harder task reading numerous entries.

Castle’s story was entitled “Words” and described her personal reaction to Morgan’s painting, which he created in the 1940s. The painting is a colorful depiction, from memory, of the thorn/shrike birds he saw when he was a child on his family’s farm in Louisiana. The farm was surrounded by barbed wire fending and he often saw small birds impaled on the barbs of the wire.

“Sometimes it’s just like an abstract painting,” Castle wrote. “There you are clicking right along reaching for the warmth of the sun. Then boom, you look down and there’s barbed wire standing in your way.

“Another obstacle. Just when you think everything is in it’s place, you look up and nothing is as it was. It’s all jumbled up and now you need to make sense of everything and put things back in order.

“‘But that’s just life,’ he would say.”

From there, the story went on to talk about her time sitting with Gramps during his final days.As I was reading, I wondered if this essay was fact or fiction. Turns out it was a little bit of both. The writing gripped my emotions.

Castle told me later that the essay was a little bit about Morris Morgan and that she had worked very hard on the entry.

Morgan died recently at the age of 97. Most everyone who attended the awards ceremony knew him and had stories to share. Someone even read Castle’s winning entry out loud to the people there. Everyone seemed reluctant to leave this final writing challenge.

I only knew Morris Morgan for a couple of years, but I watched him enjoy his first art exhibit at the age of 95, and attend two writing challenges based on his artwork.

Tammy Phillips, the artist who organized his debut art show, is moving to Montana and won’t be hosting any additional Morris Morgan Writing Challenges. The Tammy Phillips Studio & Gallery will close.

She is already submitting her artwork to galleries in the Kalispell area and submitting work to the Charles Russell Museum 2019 sale. Her work focusing on cityscapes around the world continues to be featured at the Agora Gallery in New York City.

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at kcapps@newsminer.com. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.

Community editor and columnist Kris Capps is a longtime resident of Fairbanks and Denali Park. Contact her at kcapps@newsminer.com, in the office at 459-7546 or by cell at 322-6334. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.