By GWEN OREL
Valentina Roever knew she was a winner in the Rightfully Hers Youth Art Competition, commemorating 100 years since women got the right to vote.
Her art teacher, Ms. Kondreck, came to the door of her French class to call her out.
“I thought, ‘Am I in trouble?’” Valentina said.
“Valentina, you won!” Ms. Kondreck said.
“I was jumping up and down,” said Valentina, a sixth-grader who will be 13 in two weeks.
It was Ms. Kondreck who had told the Glenfield Middle School art class about the contest for students in grades 4, 5 and 6, shortly after winter break. The contest was sponsored by the National Archives Foundation to celebrate the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Its exhibit, “Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote,” at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., features records, photographs, and other archival materials about women’s suffrage.
The winning painting would be part of the exhibit.
When Valentina got home, her mother greeted her, crying. Her father, Daniel Roever, cried, too.
“I’d never seen him cry before,” Valentina said.
She had worked for months on her large painting that answered the question, “What does the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote mean to you and your community?”
The contest received 178 submissions from 32 schools, in 17 states.
Valentina’s painting, titled “Reflecting on Women’s Right to Vote,” won the Grand Prize.
But she would not know that until later.
Her work was partly inspired by her mother, Andreina Botto-Roever, who works at the United Nations, and by her grandmother, a history teacher who was visiting from Argentina.
“You know, the women’s right to vote is a big deal for me. We didn’t get it in Argentina until 1947,” Botto-Roever said. She wanted to make sure that Valentina understood there were realities other than the one she was experiencing, where she could take the right to vote for granted, and other than having equal opportunity: “We had it so hard. You are having it so good. Make use of it.”
Valentina began researching women’s suffrage.
________________________________________________________________________READ: LOCAL GIRL MAKES ART: VALENTINA ROEVER WINS AWARD
“I didn’t know the things that women would do in prison, like hunger strikes. And when they went on hunger strike if they didn’t eat, they would actually shove it down their noses,” she said. Knowing what the women went through inspired her. “And I thought, you know what, okay, I really want to do this,” she said.
An early sketch of women marching toward a sun, filled with hope, got the ax. It didn’t quite get to what Valentina wanted to say about the change over the years.
Then she decided to draw a picture that showed “then,” with women standing in line, and a cruel policeman, and “now,” with women who are disabled, women of color — and a policewoman.
Botto-Roever bought her daughter a large canvas. Valentina knew she wanted to draw “old-timey” dresses with a lot of detail, and finding the right medium was hard, until she got a recommendation from the mother of one of her 7-year-old sister Paula’s friends: watercolor markers. They were expensive, so Valentina bought some, and her mother bought others.
“I never saw her working so hard on anything,” Botto-Roever said.
It took her a long time: The dresses were hard; the canvas was big; detail was important.
“And I also, because my Mom was always there helping me, I actually put in my Mom,” Valentina said. “With me. As a baby, so nobody would notice.”
She worked on her painting on weekends, and whenever she had some free time.
Being told she was a winner was exciting: The prize included a sleep-over — in sleeping bags! — at the National Archives. Her prize included two plane tickets, but her family exchanged the tickets for extra entries to the awards ceremony so everyone could attend, all three sisters and both parents. They drove to D.C.
Valentina and her family arrived at the National Archives, went through a room where everyone had stowed their sleeping bags, and took their seats in the auditorium.
That’s when she looked up and saw a slide show of the schedule.
And then she saw her face.
“It said ‘Valentina Roever, the Grand Prize winner.’ And I grabbed my Dad and I said, ‘Daddy, that’s me! That’s my face on that slide show!’ I was so surprised and so happy,” she said, laughing. “I couldn’t stop smiling.”
And when they announced her name, she stood up.
SLEEP-OVER WITH THE DECLARATION
“I knew,” said Botto-Roever with a laugh. “I knew everything.”
Keeping her daughter from knowing about the Grand Prize win was deliberate: “I wanted Valentina to be focused on the message, on the art. It wasn’t about winning. It wasn’t about being in a competition. It was about her learning about the right to vote,
and her focusing on the arts in her, working hard to get this piece together,” she said.
The message, the inspiration, and the learning journey were what mattered, Botto-Roever explained. She’s raising her daughters also to think about community and inspiration, not about competition: “It’s about the team. It’s about being a good citizen, thinking about the community. These are the important things, not the winning or being the best.”
This attitude is reflected in her daughters’ nonprofit, The Sisters’ Foundation, which raises money for poor children in Argentina, primarily through selling multilingual children’s books the girls have written.
“I don’t know how many people actually know how hard they worked just for their rights,” Valentina said, explaining why she worked so hard on her painting. “Even though right now some women are still paid less than men, still it’s very important for new generations to know about this. They worked so hard. Things weren’t perfect, but they tried their best to make it right. Because getting the right to vote was one of the main things that men had that women didn’t. And that was one of the main things that gave them power.”
Her painting remains at the National Archives for the rest of 2020. After a presentation, including two actors playing a scene about suffrage, the family went to the sleep-over: on the marble floor of the rotunda of the National Archives.
“We actually got to sleep right next to the Declaration of Independence!” Valentina said. “Until they took it away at 10 p.m.”
There was so much history everywhere, she said. Her younger sister, Sophia, 11, was just learning about the Bill of Rights in school, and “she was going crazy,” Valentina said with a laugh. She bought her sister a facsimile of the Declaration at the gift shop.
“Reflecting on Women’s Right to Vote” even had its own product line in the gift shop: reproduction paintings — someone asked Valentina to sign one, with the date — and postcards.
“I had no idea how hard marble was until I slept on it,” she said, although the floor was softened by yoga mats.
After a pancake breakfast for all of the children the next morning, Valentina was interviewed twice.
The officials told her, “You’re a part of history now.”