Fortner art awardto recognize localstorytelling pair

Ben Owen III

LAURINBURG – The founders of the Storytelling and Arts Center will be honored next week with the Ethel N. Fortner Writer and Community Award.

The ceremony, host by St. Andrews University, will be held March 10 at the Carol Grotnes Belk Main Lounge at 6 p.m.

The Fortner Award will go to Jan Schmidt and Brenda Gilbert, co-founders of the Storytelling and Arts Center in Downtown Laurinburg. The Sam Ragan Fine Arts Award will also be presented that evening to Ben Owen, III, a third generation potter, from Seagrove.

“St. Andrews recognizes, encourages, and celebrates the extraordinary careers of all those who work in the arts,” said Ted Wojtasik, professor of creative writing and editor of the St. Andrews University Press. “The Fortner-Ragan Awards are presented each year to honor distinguished North Carolinians who have been outstanding practitioners of their art or outstanding supporters of the arts.

“The Fortner Award is presented to someone who has selflessly supported and promoted the arts in our state, and the Ragan Award is presented to someone who has achieved excellence in his or her primary genre: art, music, or literature.”

Previous recipients of the awards include Gov. Bob Scott, Allan Gurganus, David Brinkley, Loonis McClohon, Kathryn Gurkin, Ed Southern, Elizabeth Hudson and Grammy Award winner Rhiannon Giddens.

Created in 1986 to honor Ethel N. Fortner, who was a friend to writers and frequent contributor to the St. Andrews Review, the award has been given to ardent supporters of the arts in communities ranging from journalists to activists.

Award recipient Schmidt refers to her relationship with Gilbert, as being “joined at the hip.” The two worked tirelessly to write grants and obtain funding for the Storytelling and Arts Center after the first successful storytelling festival in 2007. Goals for the center included economic growth, community cohesion, and quality art. Together, they brought world famous storytellers to the community along with renowned musicians. In recent years, they started the Dancing with the Scotland Stars event, Bluegrass Sunday, Ladies Teas, and the Storytelling Guild.

Originally from New York, Schmidt has traveled around the country as well as the Czech Republic and Saudi Arabia. Since her retirement, she has settled down in Laurinburg and continues to volunteer and experiment with art.

Besides being a storyteller, Gilbert has served on countless boards in the community including the Laurinburg/Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce, Red Cross, United Way, and Habitat for Humanity. Currently she serves on the Scotia Village Board of Trustees and is the secretary for the Arts Council of Scotland County. She also serves as choir director and lector at St. Mary Catholic Church.

The Sam Ragan Fine Arts Award was created in 1981 to honor North Carolina’s first Secretary of Cultural Resources.

Ben Owen, III, has been making his mark on the bottom of pots since he was working an apprenticeship with his grandfather and father at the age of 13. Through high school, he carefully studied the shapes, glazes, and traditions of the Owen aesthetic and learned to appreciate the history and legacy of generations of craft.

During college, Owen’s interest in form, design, and color piqued; therefore he began to forge his own unique path in clay. Through technical exploration and academic influences, his clay vernacular began to evolve. Travels in the US attending workshops and conferences along with a fellowship in Japan, extended his continued research.

“My approach to working in clay is inspired by many influences. Culture, blending with influences in nature, inspire my work,” Owen said.

Works created by Owen are included in numerous museum collections including the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC; The International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe, NM; The Schein-Joseph International Museum of Art in Alfred, NY; and The Mint Museum of Craft and Design in Charlotte.

For information about the Writers’ Forum, creative writing or the St. Andrews University Press, call 910-277-5310, email [email protected] or visit the website at

Ben Owen III Owen III
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