“Trusting your eyes…”

Story by Liz Scott

Local artist Fred Shepard has been expressing himself through his work for more than 70 years. Shepard says that he began drawing as soon as he was able to hold a pencil and was sketching before he was old enough to know how to write.

The youngest of eighteen children, Shepard as a young boy would beg his mother Bessie Shepard to sit and pose for him so he could capture her likeness on paper. When asked if these original sketches still exist, he smiled knowingly and replied that they’ve “been taken at some point. I have a lot of sisters”.

His mother’s patience, support, and encouragement were some of the tools that enabled him to develop his skills and create breathtakingly beautiful paintings and sculptures.

Shepard’s love and admiration for his mother show through some of his art. One of his paintings, entitled Bessie’s Gift, is a representation of still life on a tatted pillowcase like the ones his mother made and gave to each of her children. More than just a representation on canvas, the painting serves as a reminder of legacy and heritage.

Shepard was born in Thomaston, Georgia. Although his love of art was evident at a young age, he received no art instruction in school.

“There wasn’t an art program in my high school,” Shepard explained, “When I went to college, it’s like the world opened up for me.”

Shepard attended the University of Georgia in Atlanta, where his formal training began. He left the program before his degree was completed, preferring to concentrate on his art training. He then transferred to the Atlanta College of Art where he could focus strictly on art courses. He was awarded a fellowship to study at the Julliard Academy in Paris, and he studied in France for a year.

Upon returning to the United States, Shepard worked in museums and taught drawing classes at Auburn University. He and wife Shirley, an Atkins native, moved back to Central Arkansas in the mid 1970s to attend Arkansas Tech University, where he completed his Bachelor’s Degree.

Shepard would later attend the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree. He taught at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock for more than eight years after that.

One of Shepard’s accomplishments was to start an art program at Southside High School in Batesville. He was instrumental in instilling a love for art in many public school students until his retirement in 1997.

He and Shirley moved back to Russellville in 2004 where Shepard has a studio in his home. Shepard works in a style known as “plein air” painting, where he sets his canvas up outdoors and captures scenes from nature. Sometimes from sketches of the scenes, and sometimes from memory, he will finish the painting in his studio.

Shepard has the gift of seeing art in ordinary places. “I went fishing,” Shepard explains, “and I kept noticing the patterns in the water, the lines and the form it had as the bobber floated around.”

He has represented water patterns in several paintings, and the details are so intricate that the viewer can almost hear the lapping of the lake, the rush of the tide, or the waves lapping at the shore while gazing at the painting.

His work has won numerous awards and hangs in galleries and museums as well as homes across the southern states.

Shepard’s work will be available for viewing at a November art show at the Norman Hall Art Gallery located at Arkansas Tech University. The gallery is located at 203 West Q Street. An opening reception will be held from 3-4 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 1. The show will be on display through November 30.

The show, entitled “Trusting Your Eyes,” is a series of impressionist’s en plein air paintings from many enjoyable outdoor settings ranging from the California beaches to the Gulf Shores waters. Some are mountain scenes from North Georgia to a tranquil day at Norfork Lake.

The French Impressionists in the mid-19th century espoused the belief that you should trust your eyes. To prove their theories, they took their paint tubes and easels outdoors, where they re-created the world as colors which suggested light. Painting en plein air would forever change how we see the world.

The three Laguna Beach paintings were painted on a trip to California to associate with a group of plein air painters. Taking the easel to the beach and painting was most enjoyable said Shepard.

Some paintings in this show were finished outdoors, like On the Road to Brasstown Ball Mountain I ; others were taken back to the studio and completed, like On the Road to Brasstown Ball Mountain II. Often time sketches, such as the painting of Greer’s Ferry Lake, Buffalo River and Beach at Turtle Bay, are made on location and completed later.

On a cold day in January with snow falling, Crow Mountain on a Snowy Day was painted. Sitting at the window with the wind blowing and the snow furling around outside, watercolors were used to more quickly capture the moment.

The painting Bobbers Afloat is from a series of painting depicting the ripples caused by the motion in water. This painting tends to pull you into the painting and the action of the water is memorizing.

Trusting Your Eyes has been a show that Shepard has enjoyed putting together. He states, “At this stage of my life, I truly paint what I love and am inspired to paint.”

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