MORRILTON — Melissa Cowper-Smith of Morrilton has been awarded a $4,000 Individual Artist Fellowship from the Arkansas Arts Council, and she has big plans for the money.
“Well, it’s funny; there are so many things. The thing I’d really like is a pulp beater, which is how you make paper. They’re $9,000, so I may have to wait,” she said, laughing.
Cowper-Smith is one of nine Arkansas artists who will be recognized during an awards ceremony from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock.
The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are required.
Contact Robin McClea at (501) 324-9348 or email@example.com to find out if reservations are still available.
Light refreshments and beverages will be served.
Cowper-Smith is an adjunct art teacher at the University of Central Arkansas and formerly at Hendrix College, both in Conway.
Cowper-Smith applied for the fellowship from the Arkansas Arts Council, a division of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, when she saw one of this year’s categories was Works on Paper.
“The Arkansas Arts Center gives out these Individual Artist Fellowships every year. … It rotates what area it’s in,” she said.
According to a press release, three artistic disciplines are selected each year as categories for the awards. This year, it was Literary Arts: Playwriting; Performing Arts: Music Composition in the Classical Western Tradition; and Visual Arts: Works on Paper.
Cowper-Smith is a multimedia artist who uses projected video animation, digital printing, collage and painting. She grows 30 to 40 brown Nankeen cotton plants on her eco farm, Wildland Gardens, to make paper. She also uses the stalks of some of the flowers she grows to make paper.
In an earlier interview with the River Valley & Ozark Edition, she said the recipe to make paper includes boiling the grass for hours outside in big pots. The mixture is strained and blended.
“It becomes like a really gross garden smoothie,” Cowper-Smith said.
Pigment paper is her signature art form. She creates it by taking digital photographs, which she uses to make paintings, “not directly from them, but parts of them, mixed up,” she said in the earlier interview.
She scans the paintings and uses Photoshop software to blend them together, something she has done for “years and years,” Cowper-Smith said. She also makes videos of the work using the “layers” feature of the Photoshop program, she said.
“I make animations, a form of digital stop-motion animation, and prints,” Cowper-Smith said. “When I have a show, I will have a projection of the video, and usually, it’s the same scene.”
For the Individual Artist Fellowship, she had to submit 20 images of recent work and a description of her work and progress.
“I applied for so many things,” Cowper-Smith said.
In the spring, she won an Arkansas Committee for the National Museum of Women in the Arts scholarship.
“This has been a good year,” she said. That scholarship paid for her to go to an arts center in Colorado, where she did a course in encaustic art, also known as hot-wax painting.
“I’m going to have a show at the Butler Center in the loft space in Little Rock in January, and that is organized by the Arkansas committee,” she said. “That show will be some encaustic pieces that I’m working on right now and some pieces on handmade paper that I’ve already made, mostly handmade paper and pigment printing.”
The pigment printing is based on a series she’s been working on from imagery of people who grow their own medicine.
“I interviewed people this spring, all people who grow herbal medicine,” Cowper-Smith said. The pigment printing will be “not of them, but photographs of their belongings, their homes and their gardens.”
Born in Canada, Cowper-Smith went to the University of Victoria in British Columbia and moved to New York City for graduate school at Hunter College, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree. That’s where she met a philosophy student from New Jersey, James Dow, whom she married. The couple moved to Arkansas in 2011 to raise their son, Afton.
Cowper-Smith is a 2015 recipient of a Horn Scholarship to attend the Penland School of Craft, where she studied The Topography of Handmade Paper. Her work has been exhibited around the United States and is in the Arkansas Arts Council’s 2018 Small Works on Paper touring exhibition.
Also according to the press release, the fellowships allow artists to set aside time for creating their art and improving their skills.
Stacy Hurst, director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, said the fellowships “encourage Arkansas artists of all disciplines and give them the resources to grow their careers and talents. This, in turn, contributes to our successful creative economy.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.