Artist captures community’s past

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published March 21, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated March 20, 2013 at 10:45 a.m.
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Wayne Bryan

A painting depicting the Saline County Courthouse by Benton artist Dianne Roberts will be one of the Saline scenes that will be discussed in tonight’s meeting of the Saline County History and Heritage Society. Roberts will talk about her art at the society’s headquarters in downtown Benton. Then the meeting will move down the block to her studio, where her work is displayed.

Dianne Roberts has a keen eye for the world around her.

The Benton artist is known for creating commissioned paintings of contemporary homes, cars, pets and people. In addition, she combines her eye for detail with research and talent to create images from the past.

Tonight, the Benton artist will share her interpretation of some of Saline County’s best known landmarks with the Saline County History and Heritage Society.

“She will speak to our members and guests at our center on Market Street,” said Shirley Coppock, program chairwoman for the society. “Then we will move a few doors down to her studio in the Gingles Building.”

Roberts describes herself as an artist of nostalgia, and she does research to back up her interest in the past.

“I take pictures and research what the places used to look like,” she said. “I visit the places when I can and talk to people who remember how things were.”

In some cases, Roberts said, the owners of buildings and homes have given her paint chips so she can match the colors. In addition, she can call upon a collection of old photos she has had for almost 30 years.

“In the 1980s, Charles Dove used to sell some old photographs taken in Saline County,” she said. “He would sell them during Benton Old Fashioned Days, and I tried to get as many of them as I could.”

The first Saline County scene from a bygone era Roberts painted was the Saline County Courthouse as it appeared when it was first built. Others have included the Shoppach House on Main Street in Benton and The Gann Building, which was once a doctor’s office and is now a museum. The Gann Building is thought to be one of the few buildings, if not the only one, built from bauxite blocks taken from the mines in Bauxite.

Some of the later depictions have included the Old River Bridge over the Saline River and various old schools.

Roberts said she starts with pen-and-ink drawings. She has made prints of those and sold them as cards or in larger sizes. Later, Roberts painted the drawings with watercolors.

“I used to paint each one separately, and there are plenty of those hand-done ones still around,” she said. “Now I just hand-do one of them and make color copies.”

Roberts said she has had a rule for painting the Saline County scenes: There would not be any cars or people in the pictures.

“When people see these places, I wanted them to have their own memories,” Roberts said. “If I put in 1920s cars or something from any period, it might not match their memories, and the connection is lost.”

She said her drawing of the old Benton Grammar School is an example of how the picture matches the memory.

“When people come in and see it, they often tell me their stories about their time at the school,” Roberts said. “They see it during their time there.”

People seeing her pictures don’t

hesitate to tell her she has done something wrong, but she said her research always holds up.

“Some people have said there was one thing or another wrong with my courthouse,” Roberts said. “When that happens at my studio, I just say, ‘Let’s take a walk,’ and we go down to the corner, and then they will say I was right.”

As a longtime resident of Benton, Roberts has looked at the county courthouse for a long time, from a variety of perspectives — all with an artist’s eye.

There were no art teachers when Roberts attended Benton High School, but she said she always wanted to be an art teacher.

After she graduated from Ouachita Baptist University in 1967, Roberts returned to Benton as the first art teacher for Benton Junior High School. She also taught at Benton High School.

“After a couple of years, I quit to raise a family,” Roberts said.

That was around the time she started drawing and painting scenes from around Saline County, along with other subjects, using not only watercolor and ink, but oils, pastels and other mediums.

“I tried to do one picture a year,” Roberts said. “As my children got older, I did more.”

She returned to teaching art in school when her husband’s job took them to Georgia in 1995. When they returned to Saline County in 2001, she helped start the art department at Bauxite High School. After that, she opened a studio and started accepting private students.

She has added to her Saline scenes with a series for Christmas scenes using some of the same locations, such as the courthouse and homes decorated for the season and covered with snow.

The Saline scenes are being grouped into collections for purchase, but all will be on display for the Saline County History and Heritage Society’s meeting at 7 tonight. The meeting will be held at the society’s headquarters, 123 N. Market St. in Benton.

For more information about her art, contact Roberts at (501) 860-7467.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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