More than 300 artists and community members gathered at Paducah's Immanuel Baptist Church on Sunday for the opening of the church's second "Miracle and Mystery of Christmas" art exhibition.

Minister Jamie Broome spoke briefly at the reception, thanking attendees and artists for helping the house of worship further its mission.

"It was the dream of Immanuel to encourage art in our region and also enrich our community's experience during the Advent and Christmas season," he said.

"We dreamed the exhibit up with a team of artists and staff from the church last year," said Brittany Riddle, the church's assistant minister. "It's been really fun to meet groups of artists from around Illinois and Kentucky who submitted works to the show."

The afternoon concluded with a concert from the Paducah Singers in the church's sanctuary.

This year's edition of the exhibit carried the theme "The Light By Which I See" and drew 75 submissions, 50 of which were juried into the exhibit. Riddle explained that the theme was chosen because of its possibility of being interpreted in a variety of ways, both religious and not.

"There were so, so, so many good works that the jurying process was actually very difficult," said Todd Birdsong, executive director of West Kentucky Community and Technical College's Clemens Fine Arts Center and one of the three jurors for the exhibit. "This year, overall generally speaking, the level of work that was entered into the show increased dramatically."

Anne Strawn took home the Harold and Datha Lofton Award for Best Theme Interpretation netting her the $1,000 top prize for her work "The Universe Speaks to Those That Listen."

The Immanuel Baptist Church Miracle and Mystery of Christmas Jurors' Choice Award of $500 went to Stephanie Young for her photograph "God's morning light," which she captured in Iceland.

A $100 honorable mention award, sponsored by the Yeiser Arts Center, went to Mary Ruth "Tutu" Maggard for her "Finding the Moon with my Mama."

Yeiser Art Center Executive Director Lexie Abra Millikan, who also served as a juror, praised the exhibit's contributors and the people of the church for bringing the event to the community.

"I think we've come a long way towards establishing an annual exhibition here," she said. "I'm really proud to see what's happening in our community creatively and this is a really wonderful partnership."

The third juror, local artist Char Downs, was excited to see so many community members at the reception.

"I'm just happy to see so many people out supporting art and artists," Downs said. "It was a delight to look at this show and see all the talent we have in the area."

The exhibit will remain up for public viewing at Immanuel Baptist Church, 3465 Buckner Lane, through Dec. 31.

Award winners:

• Harold and Datha Lofton Award for Best Theme Interpretation -- Anne Strawn's "The Universe Speaks to Those That Listen."

• Immanuel Baptist Church Miracle and Mystery of Christmas Jurors' Choice Award -- Stephanie Young's "God's morning light."

• Yeiser Arts Center Honorable Mention -- Mary Ruth "Tutu" Maggard's "Finding the Moon with my Mama."

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