Conway artist finds ‘inspiring’ studio space among antiques

By Tammy Keith Originally Published August 29, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated August 28, 2013 at 3:09 p.m.
0 Comments A A Font Size
PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Virginia Potter has been a painter for more than 40 years. She has a studio space in the top level of Carmen’s Art and Antiques in downtown Conway.

CONWAY — Virginia Potter was painting an old-mill scene using an easel tucked into a corner among books, Depression glass and antique furniture.

Her studio is upstairs in Carmen’s Art and Antiques in downtown Conway.

“I call her my artist in residence,” owner Carmen Thompson said, laughing.

Potter, 72, has painted for about 44 years.

Born in Quitman, she and her husband moved back and forth between Conway and Michigan. The home in Conway she and her husband, Cliff, have is small, she said.

Potter said she told Thompson she didn’t have room to set up an easel at her home.

“She said, ‘Well, I do!’” Potter said.

“I enjoy it here,” she said, standing in her nook on the upstairs landing overlooking the businesses below.

The building also houses Bevy’s Custom Drapery, Monograms and Gifts.

“It’s an inspiring place to work. When I hear Carmen’s voice, her laughter and [hear her] speaking to someone in subtle and very feminine tones, and I hear Bev down here working, machines humming, … I can put that in the background and really get focused,” she said. “It’s just soothing; it makes a real good focal point, and it’s like ambient sound, and I can really concentrate on what I’m doing.”

The longtime artist said one of the perks of painting is that it helps her handle stress.

“It’s therapy, absolutely,” she said.

Potter’s husband has undergone dialysis for 10 years. She drops him off for the treatments in Conway and comes to Carmen’s to paint from 1-3 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday each week.

The Potters have a son in his 40s, plus two adopted sons, 17 and 20.

Potter said this is the first time in her career that she hasn’t had her own studio. Her first studio opened in 1973, a brick building on Oak Street next to what was then an ice house, now the Toad Store.

Potter did what she loved — she taught art classes.

“Eventually, I decided I needed to go back to school and make sure I was doing the right thing,” she said.

Potter took classes at State College of Arkansas, now the University of Central Arkansas, in Conway.

After the couple moved to Michigan in 1980, she received an associate degree in metalsmithing and jewelry from Mott Community College. She taught adult art classes for the Mott Foundation.

The Potters returned to Conway in 1987 after Cliff retired from General Motors in Flint, Mich., a promise he made to her that they would move “home” when he retired.

Potter said that for a while, she stopped painting in oils and tried acrylics and watercolors.

Although she said she still enjoys painting with watercolors, a couple of years ago she went back to primarily using oils.

“It was like finding an old friend. It was familiar; I was comfortable with it,” she said, the pungent smell of oil paint hanging in the air.

Potter had just signed a piece, a scene of Mabry Mill in Virginia, which she and her husband, Cliff, visited.

She said she found a 1937 photo of the mill and took photos of and toured the restored place during their visit.

“I love painting real places,” she said.

She is self-critical, looking over her finished work.

“That’s the way you learn,” she said. “You have to be your own worst critic.”

Other paintings displayed were of Cleburne County scenes like Sugar Loaf outside Heber Springs and Miller’s Point, “the most gorgeous place in the state.”

A painting of a barn in Searcy County is from the viewpoint of “standing out there in my friend’s backyard,” she said. She also took a photo of the scene because the light changes so quickly, she said.

Another painting displayed in her studio nook is of Davies Bridge in Petit Jean State Park.

“I love Petit Jean; I do a lot of painting up there,” she said.

“Most people like landscapes; let’s face it,” she said. “I do abstracts for me because I really enjoy them. They’re so much fun.”

Potter especially enjoys doing artist’s trading cards, 2 1/2- by 3 1/2-inch watercolor paintings.

In a tradition that goes back centuries, she said, artists traded the small paintings.

They made a resurgence a few years ago, she said.

“People collect those like crazy,” Potter said.

She’s not immune to the craze — she also collects artists’ trading cards — selling hers and buying others’ work on eBay.

“I love original art,” she said.

Potter has started a series of paintings of historic buildings in downtown Conway. She is working on the paintings at home, where she said she has room to do small pieces but not the larger works she can paint at Carmen’s.

“It’s ideal,” she said.

Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

To report abuse or misuse of this area please hit the "Suggest Removal" link in the comment to alert our online managers. Read our Terms of Use policy.

Subscribe Register Login

You must login to make comments.