Prize Paintings

To commemorate winners of the Grinnell Prize, the College commissions paintings by artist Tilly Woodward.

She says, "It is both an honor and a privilege to paint the story of people who have done so much in their young lives. I enjoy the challenge of finding visual metaphors to represent their missions and the enormous impact of the work they do with and for others."

Learn more about each year's paintings from her below.

2021 Painting

Painting of flowers, lock, and key

In this painting I thought about the importance of being rooted in a place over time — the work TONE does in Orange Mound is both immediately transformational and far-reaching in its impact. The lock and key represent the ability to claim and release the joy within, as well as the power that comes from having the keys of ownership, and the implications for future generations in terms of economic growth and well-being. Purple coneflowers and black-eyed Susans are native to the Memphis area, joyful and exuberant in their color, resilient in their ability to grow. Their beauty and function as sources of pollen and seed production are exponential.

Through TONE, Orange Mound is a place reimagined. It was once a plantation, named for the hedges of Osage Orange that lined the fields, and later became one of the largest Black communities in the United States. This painting is, I hope, a metaphor for the work TONE does, and an opportunity to imagine, to look anew. The leaves of the Osage orange are painted to show their underside, making the capillary system more evident. The capillaries function in the tree as TONE functions through its network of partnerships, nourishing the larger community. The fruit of the Osage orange, often called a hedge apple, is sliced in half, revealing a sunburst of seeds and emanating a sense of light, a promise of future.

2020 Painting

2020 Grinnell Prize Painting with hands, prison bars, butterflies

The organization Justice Defenders does a wide range of innovative human rights work in prisons in both Uganda and Kenya. What struck me as especially brilliant about Justice Defenders are their efforts to provide legal education to people on both sides of the bars, training both inmates and prison officers as paralegals and lawyers. Prisons are often a wasteland of humanity, dehumanizing both to the prisoners and to the people who are their keepers. What could be more empowering than a deep understanding of the complex system that you function in?

In this painting I wanted to show the transformation of the  waste land of prison into a garden of knowledge. A blossoming. There are still bars, but they begin to get obliterated with the vines of inquiry extending, and the flowers pushing upward from the bottom of the painting. The hands reach out to each other from either side of the bars that divide them, and unite them.

The painting is also populated by a group of butterflies and moths taking flight and moving upward. Symbols of transformation- what was once an egg, a caterpillar, a pupa, becomes a thing of beauty, capable of flight—and a reminder to stay in motion, to keep becoming.

2019 Painting

2019 Grinnell Prize Painting - twisted scarves and chains
Oil on board, 10.25 x 8 inches

EMPOWER PEOPLE rescues, rehabilitates, and educates women and girls who have been trafficked as brides, and through village conversations and political advocacy, works to change the patriarchal system that tacitly permits the practice.

This painting shows two dupattas, long scarves, twisted together and bound together with a rusted chain running through the center of the bind. I thought of the colors that a bride in India might wear — red, white, cream, depending on belief. I thought of the weave of the fabrics and the weave of a marriage and the intertwining of lives — at its best a relationship of love and respect, but in the case of bride trafficking, a horrific reality of slavery and bondage represented by the rusted chain.

2018 Painting

Cogs and machinery in background with brightly colored gerbera daisies
Oil on board, 10.25 x 8 inches

SoScience is a complex, multifaceted enterprise that helps connect scientists, NGOs, research institutions and social entrepreneurs to develop solutions to pressing social problems, through conferences, education, publications, consulting and programs that provide personalized logistical and operational support, seed funding, and training.

As I worked to vision this year’s painting, I imagined all the different facets of SoScience’s work as tiny gears of different sizes and kinds, interconnecting to create solutions through complex relationships. The gears transform as brightly colored gerbera daisies to represent the blossoming of ideas for the common good.

2017 Painting

painting of prison bars with one set of hands behind the bars and three different sized hands in front
Oil on board, 10.75 x 8 inches

Statistics show that nearly one in two black women have a family member in prison. These women often experience isolation, face stigma and care for children and finances on their own. Essie Justice works to connect women with incarcerated loved ones to give and receive support, and empowers them to network, heal, and create social change to end mass incarceration. Through Essie programs, women teach each other to be leaders and advocates.

This painting depicts the hands of two women supporting and holding each other up, and holding up the future, represented by the hand of the child. The hands are posed in a triangular configuration, a shape of strength, and at the same time they are nestled and tender. The painting also talks about barriers, both obvious and subtle. There are the prison bars, which separate the hand of the incarcerated family member from the women and child; the black border around the edge of the painting, representing containment and isolation; and an invisible barrier that the hands press up against, representing the impact of profiling and mass incarceration.

Many thanks to hand models Tiana Jones, Grace McKendall, Little Hassan, J’remi Barnes, and Jamal Preston.

2016 Paintings


Painting flowers, hand, and American flag on a background of a labor standards document
Oil on board, 8 1/8 x 10 3/8 inches

Adhikaar is a multifaceted organization that works for human rights and social justice, serving Nepalese immigrants through interactions that are personal and community-based, as well as helping to create public policy.  Nepal is represented by the mandala-like rhododendron at the bottom of the painting, and the experience of immigration is represented by the hand, a symbol of personal identity, emerging from the flower, reaching towards the United States flag.  The hand also represents Adhikaar’s work to establish healthy conditions for nail salon workers, and the text in the background represents Adhikaar’s work to establish policy protecting the rights of domestic workers. Many thanks to hand model Anushka Joshi.


Painting of Indian coins, a chain around a hand, and a solar light
Oil on board, 11 x 8 ½ inches

Essmart connects consumers in remote communities, local mom and pop shops, and manufacturers of low cost, environmentally sound essential products like solar lights, water filters, and cook stoves.  These products are life changing, but only if there is a sustainable system of distribution, which Essmart has been able to create. The solar light in the painting is a product available through Essmart, shown illuminating the hand of the person who is able to work or study after the sun has set. A “supply chain” connects the hand and the solar light, which is punctuated with Indian coins, representing the increased flow of commerce. Many thanks to hand model Medha Gopalaswamy.

2015 Paintings

Golden Baobab

painting of map of Africa, African pattern, and paintbrushes
Oil on board, 11 x 8.5 inches

Engaging young readers through culturally relevant literature is at the heart of Golden Baobab’s mission.  It’s important to see yourself reflected in your reading, especially when you are just starting out. This painting represents children’s books written for Africans by Africans.  The pen, pencil and brush represent the authors and illustrators that Golden Baobab supports through competitions, prizes, publishing and distribution of books.  The books are painted to look well-worn and well-used—beloved tales that open a world of imagination and learning to Africa’s children.

Found in Translation

painting of keys, stethoscope, blood pressure gauge
Oil on Board, 11 x 8.5 inches

For people who do not speak English and are in medical crisis, having a trained medical interpreter can be a matter of life and death. Found in Translations helps bilingual and homeless women secure meaningful jobs by providing training for medical interpretation certificates, and helping place them. This painting is about pairing multiple needs. Medical intervention is represented by the stethoscope and blood pressure gauge. The keys represent the stability of an income that provided keys to a home and other opportunities to bilingual and formerly homeless women. Interpretation is represented by the different alphabets and language systems, painted in red to represent medical crisis.

2014 Paintings

Lindsay Stradley and Ani Vallabhaneni, Sanergy

painting of plants growing from decomposing material and insects
Oil on board, 10 3/8 x 8 inches

Sanergy provides people living Kenya’s poorest slums with no running water access to clean, safe toilets, provides residents an important way to make a living, and transforms human waste to fertilizer, increasing agricultural output.

In this painting waste is represented by flies.

The coins represent the three-shilling fee slum residents pay to use a Sanergy toilet, and the earning potential of the residents who own Sanergy franchises.

The young crops sprouting from the seeds rooted in the turnover of money and waste represent the top of the cycle that Sanergy creates in its multi-faceted endeavor.

Adam Kircher and Kiah Williams, SIRUM

painting of pills in rows and scattered
Oil on board, 9 5/8 x 7 7/16 inches

Sirum makes order out of chaos, providing life saving medicine that would otherwise to waste to people who can least afford it.

This jumble of pills becomes organized, manageable and most of all useful through their vision and work.

2013 Paintings

Emily Arnold-Fernández, Asylum Access

painting of tools: plane, gavel, vice, and maps

Asylum Access empowers refugees through legal advocacy training, creating systemic change to guarantee refugee rights, including the right to work in countries of first refuge.By developing the Refugee Rights Toolkit, Asylum Access is able to replicate its model beyond the countries where it has offices.

The tools in this painting include a plane, used to level wood, and a judge’s gavel, reflecting the impact of legal rights that smooth the playing field for refugees.

The other tools are simple in nature — a needle and thread, a punch, a chisel, and a screwdriver — representing the significance of being able to work.

The maps represent countries where Asylum Access set up its first offices: Tanzania, Ecuador, and Thailand.

Elizabeth Scharpf & Julian Ingabire Kayibanda, SHE

painting of bananas and moon

The moon and the red numbers in the painting for Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) represent the days of work and school that girls and women lose each year because they do not have access to affordable menstrual pads.

Seen in relationship to the numbers 1-365, this visualization of the lost opportunities for learning and earning suggests the cycle of ignorance and poverty that often results.

SHE provides women with the means to produce their own pads using natural resources (often banana fibers), resulting not only in dignity, but also in an ecologically sound, sustainable source of employment.

2012 Painting

Global Press Institute, Team Rubicon, and Embrace

painting of hand holding moth, thermometer, and vine

Transformation, connectedness, labor and gentleness are key concepts in the painting. Elements like the moth and cocoon represent all the winners’ work, while other elements are more specific.

The cocoon, moth, bee, and the thermometer represent the work of Jane Chen and Linus Liang with Embrace:

  • the physical shape of the infant warmer reminded me of a cocoon, a safe environment for the support of young life to transform to the next stage;
  • a thermometer for maintaining a stable temperature necessary for life;
  • and the bee for the wax panel that holds and transfers the heat in the warmer without need for electricity.

The grapevine represents the work of Cristi Hegranes with Global Press Institute as a growing, living thing: the power of the transmission of information from person to person as agent of change with global implications.

I’ve painted many hands over the years. I think of them as the ultimate power tools. This one is extended, representing the work of Jacob Wood and William McNulty with Team Rubicon: ready to help and offer aid and care for others in dire circumstances. The hand is dirty with the patina of labor, but gentle and kind enough to hold and release a delicate winged creature. An Afghan war veteran and family friend Joe Gallagher was my hand model.

2011 Paintings

Eric W. Glustrom and Boris Bulayev, Educate!

painting of jar of seeds, germinated seed, and coins

Mirror images of each other, these paintings refer to Educate!’s impact on Uganda.

The single germinated seed represents the moment in which knowledge engages with a student’s mind and experience.

The small coins represent the modest investment in education that can change young people’s lives and the lives of their families and communities.

The jar represents a nation embracing the Educate! social entrepreneurship program; the seeds in the jar symbolize Educate!’s social entrepreneurship program reaching young minds throughout Uganda.

As each seed germinates, it produces new seeds. The result is a cycle of education, entrepreneurship, and sustainability that is virtually without limit.

James Kofi Annan, Challenging Heights

painting with tilapia, coins, net, tape measure

This painting represents Annan’s challenging and complicated life — from the tilapia found in Lake Volta, where James fished as a child slave, to the Ghanaian coins that represent the price traffickers paid to buy him from his parents.

The coins also symbolize his rise from slavery to become a Barclays Bank manager and his financial investment in Challenging Heights.

The younger of the two fish is caught within the netting (slavery), while the bigger fish swims outside the net (freedom).

The alphabet represents learning to read and write from the books of kindergarteners, as well as the teaching that Annan now offers through schools he has opened.

Numbers on the measuring tape also represent skills such as tailoring, taught in one of Challenging Heights’ many programs.

Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, Encounter

Star of David atop the kaffiyeh headdress with hand holding germinated seed

Painting for Rabbi Melissa Weintraub focuses on seeing oneself through another’s lens. Woodward placed the Star of David atop the kaffiyeh headdress (Jewish and Palestinian symbols, respectively) to portray Rabbi Weintraub’s efforts to bring together the diverse perspectives of Israelites and Palestinians.

The extended, open hand represents a peace offering and symbolizes Rabbi Weintraub’s desire to establish an intimate, human connection through Encounter.

The seed of peace germinates within one person at a time, just as each American Jewish leader has a unique personal experience when participating in Encounter’s program.

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