For the Love of Art

Story by Jeannie Stone

Down a country road off Ball Hill, overlooking the treetops sits an art studio, built by the artists’ own hands, created to blend into the wooded landscape. It is here, at Treehouse Studios, where you can find Bill and Gloria Garrison, beloved local artists, in their favorite element.

For Bill and Gloria, who have been sweethearts since high school, painting together allows them to express their creativity – he through oil, and she through watercolor. Because of their shared passion and individual skills, they are an award- winning duo on the Arkansas art scene. Because of their devotion to each other and to the state, Bill and Gloria are esteemed among the citizenry.

The Garrisons grew up in Texarkana where Bill was two grades ahead of Gloria. They married right after high school, and he entered the navy’s nuclear program serving on a submarine for six years and moving his family to Newport News, Virginia, Charleston, So. Carolina, Westfork, Washington and, finally, back to Arkansas where Bill took a job with Arkansas Nuclear One.

“Neither of us did anything with art because we were so busy with children and work,“ Gloria said. Along the way, Diana, Ronald and Steven were born. Diana is a graphic designer and art teacher in Shreveport, Louisiana. Ronald is employed with the U.S. Forest Service in Utah, and Steven is a woodworker in Arkansas and is single.

It was Steven’s allergies, aggravated by the dry, dusty winds of eastern Washington state, that ushered the Garrisons move back home. Within the year, they had begun building their own home. “We built in stages. Most folks don’t do it that way,” Bill said.

They don’t speak loosely. They actually built the house with their bare hands. “Yeah, he still has his old cement mixer out there,” Gloria said as she pointed past the garage. “And our marriage survived all that,” Bill said and laughed.

When Diana moved out after graduating in 1982, Gloria took possession of her bedroom and transformed it into an art workspace. “She quickly outgrew that,” Bill said, “and she started hollering for a proper studio.”

They built Treehouse Studios in 1987, and Gloria was in business. She dove into her watercolor world after studying under Polly Loibner, another Russellville painter, and various instructors at Arkansas Tech University.

Gloria instantly gravitated to watercolor due to her hectic lifestyle during those early days. “You can just walk off and leave it and come back to it because you don’t have to wash your brushes like you do in oil painting,” she said.

There have been times when she’s had to drop everything and run. Gloria’s mother is in a nursing home in Texarkana, and her brother passed away recently from cancer. “I can get lost in my painting,” Gloria said. “I can sit at my table, and time just passes by.”

After her brother’s battle with cancer, Gloria painted a whole series of paintings capturing his image and gave them to his children. “It’s just something I needed to do, I guess.” she said. “He was tall, dark and handsome with dark eyes, a real ladies’ man.”

Gloria can draw on her love for her brother in her current project. She is illustrating a children’s book on sibling love.

“She used to paint florals, but I think she’s kind of outgrown them,” Bill said of his wife. “I love to paint ordinary stuff, like a basket of eggs,” Gloria said. It’s obvious she paints what she loves.

Although Gloria is a signature member of the Mid-Southern Watercolor Society, she never felt as if she would be a good teacher. “I had a friend from Fairfield Bay who just wouldn’t take no for an answer,” she said. That’s a lucky turn of fate for many in the River Valley who have studied under her.

School, marriage, a career and children created quite a successful diversion for Bill, and it wasn’t until 1990 that he seriously thought about painting as a career. “I could see early retirement down the road,” he said, “plus, I saw how much fun Gloria was having.”

Bill who is a self-proclaimed “trees, rocks and water” artist, was encouraged by his mother to try art as a child. “She drew a little bit, and I had an uncle who painted, and he didn’t do too bad, so I took night classes from a professional during high school,” he said.

His distinct style has earned him attention. Former Governor Mike Huckabee carried his paintings to Japan as a gift and presented one to the president of the Toyota Corporation.

“His aid told me that the president held onto the painting and didn’t pass it on to his personal assistant as is customary,” Bill said. The president of Toyota obviously has taste.

“Clear water creeks, reflections, shadows underneath the surface of the water, the movement of the water, the colors of the rocks – there’s so many things going on in my paintings,” Bill said. “You get up close and there’s nothing but brush strokes.”

To make it look three dimensional, Bill paints blues in the background for depth, and “exaggerates with an aerial perspective,” he said. His landscapes have gathered an international following. Bill has consistently ranked in the top 100 artists for both the Arts for the National Parks competition and the Art Renewal Center’s International Salon competition.

Normally, Bill can complete a small painting in a three hour time frame. The larger ones take up to three days. “But it takes all those years of knowledge, training, painting to be able to accomplish that feat,” Gloria said.

Both the Garrisons were late in devoting their full attention to their art endeavors, which makes their accomplishments that much more impressive.

In 1996, Bill and Gloria were chosen as the first artists-in-residence at the Buffalo National River, and in 1998, they were chosen as artists-in-residence at Glacier National Park. Both of the artists were featured in the 2008 Arkansas Artists Calendar which is a fundraising project to benefit the renovation of the Governor’s Mansion. Lt. Governor Bill Halter has chosen artwork from both artists to feature in his Little Rock office, and both are scheduled to teach weekend workshops as part of the 2008 Art Escape at the Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain October 30th. Bill and Gloria are also signature members of the Artists of Northwest Arkansas.

The Garrisons regularly attend Art Walks in Hot Springs, Russellville and Little Rock. “There seems to be quite a few good artists in the area,” Bill said.

Bill and Gloria are some of our finest.  

 

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