Creating an Artful Life

June 1, 2016 | By More

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In a comfortable country home between Dardanelle and Centerville and surrounded by twenty acres of the prettiest woods and pasture land, there is an artist of national renown who churns vignettes of everyday life into art. This is the home of Brenda Morgan: wife, mother, neighbor, and recently named 2015 Beaux Arts Visual Artist of the Year.

Morgan exudes a gentle warmth and quiet determination that is laced with Midwestern sensibilities and rooted in rural landscapes, which she adroitly captures on miniature canvas. The youngest of five children, Morgan was raised in Oklahoma City, but for a short time, the family lived on a remote farm. It is those pastoral scenes, most often inhabited by animals and particularly horses, that have catapulted Morgan’s artwork into meticulously curated exhibitions in high-end venues stretching across the country from Washington State to Pennsylvania and North Carolina. The patience she exhibits in faithfully rendering the details of her beloved world, one brush stroke at a time, is the hallmark of Morgan’s gentle persona, but it wasn’t always so, she said recently, at least not toward people. That was until Matthew.

Two days after Matthew was born, his parents were told that he had Down Syndrome. “We were informed of all the things he wouldn’t be able to do,” Morgan said, “but Sam and I set out to see just what he could do,” That is when, according to Morgan, she felt compelled to slow down. “I thought I had patience toward my artwork, and I really didn’t,” she said, “but being Matthew’s mom has improved my patience all the way around.” 

Morgan is accustomed to hard work: sweating at a chicken plant, drafting maps for an oil company, tending a farm, keeping a home. Before she allowed herself to paint full time in 2008, Morgan sketched during lunch breaks and painted in the evenings. Matthew played at her feet. Now 35, he attends Bost, Inc. in Dardanelle and trains for Special Olympics track and field events.

Patience and a steady hand have guided Morgan into the world of miniature painting where 25 square inches is the customary canvas requirement. Her detailed equine oil paintings have earned her a strong following among Western art collectors. The competitions she enters are highly selective, the judging intense, and Morgan’s paintings are closely scrutinized; hence, there is a large magnifying glass stand and a bright light beside her easel. To replicate the look of individual strands of hair, blades of grass, and prominent veins requires the smallest of brushes, some with only one or two bristles. It is attention to detail that elevates her art to masterpiece status. Even when Morgan paints still lifes, each thread of a crocheted doily is articulated. A roomful of awards and a ledger of strong sales attest to the quality and popularity of Morgan’s work.

Because most of her diminutive paintings sell before the shows open to the public, Morgan cannot simultaneously submit her artwork into more than one competition. She believes part of her success lies in the fact that miniatures are more affordable and are, therefore, treated as collectibles or as gift items. Another benefit to the small size is that a miniature painting lends itself to the decor of even the most extravagantly furnished home. There always seems to be room for scaled-down items. “I used to wonder why people were so attracted to miniatures,” Morgan said. But she has caught the bug and started collecting other artists’ miniature works.

Gallery sales are not her only revenue. Word gets around between horse people, and Morgan is considered one of the premier equine portrait artists in the region. Many of the friendships she has forged have been owners who have sought her talent to paint their prize stallions, colts, fillies, or mares. Horse owners are sentimental about their horses, and Morgan’s skill at capturing a horse’s personality and unique markings have engendered gratitude and loyalty from her clients. And so the commissions keep pouring in.

Morgan not only developed her own art style without the benefit of formal training, but she has also attained a reputation as a first-class artist with her usual aplomb. Among the professional organizations that she is a member of are Oil Painters of America (OPA), International Guild of Realism, (IGOR), National Oil and Acrylic Painters’ Society (NOAPS), Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers Society (MPSGS), and Miniature Art Society of Florida (MASF).

The miniatures have become her signature genre, but they require almost as much time as larger canvases. Morgan’s painting studio is situated in her expansive yard, and she spends countless hours bent over her work. The photographs she has amassed in her travels to visit horse farms, horse races, and horse lovers are displayed on a large monitor next to her easel. Her own landscape of pasture, woods, and loving home are framed in the studio windows. Soft and soothing music plays in the background. Her favorite song The Prayer, sung by Andrea Bocelli and Katharine McPhee, loops often. Visitors whisper here. “I used to work as fast as I could,” Morgan said, “but now I am the slowest painter.”

In the past year, however, Morgan has spiced up her routine. At least once a week, while Matthew and Sam are involved in their own pursuits, she joins the women painters in Lori’s Loft behind Gallery 307 in downtown Russellville. The vibe is noticeably different from her home studio. Jazz, blues, and vintage rock and roll serenade them; chatter, cocktails, and laughter abound. Loads of laughter. She also has a built in audience as her girlfriends cluster around the newest horse painting to “ooh” and “ah.” Each vein and each hair on the horse come to life.  A wine glass in her hand, gallery owner Rita Goodman exclaimed, “God, those horses! She takes that powder puff brush that she uses and creates magic. Those horses just pop off that canvas. It is complete realism.” The other artists nod in agreement.

Goodman introduced Morgan at the Beaux Arts Academy Induction Dinner and is quick with praise for the artist whom she also represents. Referring to Morgan’s lack of formal education, Goodman said, “Although Brenda is self-taught, a better description might be that she is gifted from youth to convey the gentleness and beauty in all she paints. I would compare her talent to those who play musical instruments by ear. No amount of teaching or training can improve on the gift that God has given: the gift to transform life forms to canvas for others to feel and enjoy, and the gift of unconditional love to those we nurture on a daily basis and those we encounter on life’s journey. Brenda’s passion and love for her family, friends, and for her art inspire us all to live each day in a more loving and compassionate way.”

Brenda has been welcomed into the fold. Fellow painter Bonnie Haines agrees with Goodman and added, “Brenda is one of the kindest women I have ever met.”  Artist Debbie Weibler said, “Brenda is an amazing artist and humble of her skill, and her detail is unbelievable.” The admiration is mutual.

Morgan considers the group as close as sisters. “I do find that I need a little respite from time to time, and painting with these wonderfully talented ladies fits the bill,” she said. “When Rita asked me to come paint with everyone I was hesitant. I’d always painted in the solitude of my studio and didn’t know if I could paint with all the distractions and conversation, but luckily, I was wrong! I’ve found that I can talk and laugh and paint all at the same time!”

Morgan considers herself blessed. “I am surrounded by Matthew’s joy and happiness, my husband’s love, and my crazy painting friends. There is no other way for me to feel,” she said. Indeed, Pope and Yell counties share in that good fortune, for it would be hard to imagine our community without Brenda Morgan.

To see Brenda Morgan’s artwork, visit www.brendamorganart.com or visit Gallery 307 at 307 W. C St.  in downtown Russellville.

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