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Hensley artist expands her horizons

By Jeannie Stone

This article was published January 9, 2011 at 6:00 a.m.

— Pat Wenger of Hensley never put her crayons away. Always drawn to doodling and painting as a child, she continued pursuing her art as an adult, offering classes in her home and at Hobby Lobby for 20 years. Larger canvases were calling her name, however, and to date, the self-taught artist has completed murals in several homes and businesses around the state. Recently, she completed one that measures 36 feet wide by 9 1/2 feet tall.

“Originally, I was just going to touch the mural up and add some light to the original painting, which was done about 45 years ago,” she said of the jumbo-size wall mural painted directly on the wallboard of Atkins

International Café in Atkins, “but I ended up doing a lot more than that.”

Describing the original painting as having “good bones,” Wenger said folks didn’t start really paying attention to the artscape until she added lights and details, such as the forest animals, a mailbox with the restaurant owners’ names and a more pronounced mountain range.

“I ended up totally redoing it,” she said.

The project came at a time in Wenger’s life when she needed to make a more significant impact using her God-given ability, she said.

“I never had an art lesson, but the Lord knew my heart’s desire to paint and allowed me a measure of success throughout my entire life. I just wanted to do something to thank him for all he’s done for me.”

Wenger’s successes include winning the annual Christmas-card competition sponsored by her husband’s employer, ABF Trucking. She has won awards each year she’s entered and has won the contest the past two years. Hundreds of cards imprinted with her award-winning entries were sent to customers and employees and offered for sale at the company store.

Her fascination with murals began with her own home when Wenger decided to decorate her walls to suit her tastes. The news spread by word of mouth around the community, and soon she was painting murals for a day care and a neighbor’s new dining room.

“For the children, I painted turtles floating on their backs and spitting watermelon seeds — things that kids would enjoy,” she said. “It was unlike anything I’d ever done, but I even got the kids stamping flowers on the painting using potatoes we’d cut, and they just loved that.”

In keeping with the Victorian theme for the private home, Wenger painted a woman in a period setting and actually mounted a shelf to display the owner’s teacup collection.

The piece de resistance was sitting at a café in Atkins the Wengers frequented when visiting her husband’s family.

“I kept staring at the mammoth work because it was neglected and was in sad need for repair,” she said. “Plus, I was turning 60 years old, and I’d been wanting to do something on a grand scale.”

Taking on the challenge in her husband’s hometown seemed appropriate to Wenger, who doesn’t receive pay for her efforts.

“But I receive all the food I can eat, and Jose makes the most awesome food,” she said.

The restaurant’s owner, Jose Ayala, is complimentary of Wenger as well.

“Pat comes out for the goodness of her heart, and everybody loves her here and compliments her on the work.”

Maybe that’s why Ayala invited her to return after a recent renovation at the restaurant left a chunk of wallboard. Now, Wenger is near completion of the second large mural on the walls of the historic building, dated 1889.

“He asked me if I could do something with the wall,” she said, as she painstakingly created acrylic layers of interest on the majestic landscape.

As Ayala watched Wenger, he murmured, in reverent tones, “Pat is a perfectionist, and whatever she does is done with attention to detail and love.”

That includes the jewelry she hand-sculpts from polymer clay.

“I just like anything creative,” she said.

Born in Malvern, the fifth child of 12, Wenger met her husband, Bernard, through a Christian club at the Little Rock Air Force Base.

“We have had such a rich life together, and we’ve been married 39 years,” she said. “I just wanted to pay tribute to God for our blessings, and the best way I know to praise God is through art.”

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