Severe creativity

Creativity flows through Mason Strother.

It always has.

"Mason's been drawing since he was big enough to pick up a pencil," said his grandfather, Randy Halsey. "He'd sit in his highchair and draw."

Mason has drawn images of Spiderman since he was 4, said his father, Jay.

"His imagination won't stop," Jay said. "He'll probably go home tonight and draw for two hours. He'll hit the door, and he won't stop."

In recent weeks, Mason flowed ink and lead onto paper to illustrate severe weather awareness. Using illustrating markers and colored pencil, he created an image of a farmhouse and a man looking toward a tornado in the background.

His image surpassed hundreds of other entries from Catawba, Caldwell, Alexander and Burke counties to win the top prize in the Catawba Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross' Severe Weather Awareness Poster Contest.

Suzan Anderson, the chapter's executive director, and Karyn Yaussy, Catawba County's Emergency Management coordinator, visited Startown Elementary on Thursday morning to surprise the fifth-grader with the news.

"I thought something fishy was going on," Mason said about the surprise announcement, adding he noticed his family entering his school.

Artistic talent runs in the 11-year-old's family.

His mother, Debra, is a furniture designer. His grandfather is also an artist. Debra encouraged her son for the weather contest and provided some supplies.

"He outlined it in pencil," Debra said. "It took him about two weeks.

He would step away from it for a while and return to it."

Mason said his former fourth-grade teacher, Staci Miller, gave him a flyer about the contest.

"She knew I liked entering contests," said Mason, adding he's always enjoyed art. "I looked online for tornadoes. The picture of the tornado was something I saw on the Internet, and so was the man looking back at it. That was really the inspiration. My mom wanted me to draw the (setting) behind it."

For his winning entry, Mason received a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio and a season pass to Carowinds amusement park. His fellow fifth-graders at Startown toured the Red Cross chapter's emergency-response vehicle, and they participated in a program about severe weather awareness.

The Red Cross chapter will also use Mason's drawing on thank-you notes it sends to citizens who help with disaster relief efforts, Anderson said.

Mason's parents and grandparents, as well as Newton Mayor Anne Stedman, attended Thursday's surprise announcement.

"As a former art teacher, I can say I've never seen anything this good," Stedman said.

Startown Principal Dr. Thomas Howell agreed.

"We're going to frame your artwork," Howell said. "As long as I'm here, this will always remain here at Startown. You can come back here and see it when you're an adult."

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Cayman Carpenter, a fifth-grader at Oxford Elementary School, was also recognized Thursday as Catawba County's winner in the American Red Cross' Severe Weather Awareness Poster Contest.