When she came to Texas from South Korea, Hae Lin Lee was an 11-year-old budding artist who was immediately fascinated by cowboys and Western wear.
It showed in her art -- especially her most recent effort, an intricate and colorful rendition of a saddle and cowboy chaps that elevated her to grand champion of the Stock Show Art Contest on Saturday.
Her watercolor painting, Cowboy Fashions, which won her a $3,000 scholarship and an ornate buckle, was among 1,006 entries from 130 area schools.
"When I came from Korea, it was really kind of different seeing cowboy fashions -- the colors and the textures," said Lee, 16, a sophomore at Trinity Valley High School in Fort Worth. "And the cowboy boots and hats. That's what fascinated me."
Never miss a local story.
The reserve champion is Madison Malmstrom, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Smithfield Middle School in the Birdville school district. She won a $2,500 scholarship.
The contest, sponsored by the Star-Telegram, was the richest in its 23 years. Organizers handed out $20,000 in cash and scholarships to more than 25 students and schools, compared with $3,375 in prizes last year.
The monetary boost helped spur twice as many entries as last year and helped raise the show's standing in a livestock-centered environment.
To that end, officials said all art submissions -- not just winners -- will be displayed on the Stock Show grounds or at the Cowgirl Museum and Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.
"The basic principle here is that you do not have to own an animal to show at the Fort Worth Stock Show, to truly be a part of the show," said Jay Blackmon, commercial exhibits and art show coordinator.
Lee said uses her art to relax and express herself.
"I'm kind of quiet," she said.
But moving to the U.S. five years ago with her brother, who was 6 then, has helped build her confidence as an artist and a person, she said.
"We came here to study among a diverse people," she said. "Both countries influenced me a lot in who I am."
Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641