Vinita and the CHINA GIRLS

Story by Jeannie Stone

With her paintbrush delicately poised in mid-air, Vinita Harrison, ponders the question. How long has she been painting?

As is typical for this group, the other painters rush to her aid supplying memory boosters. Many members of the group have been painting with Vinita for “at least 30 years.” Suffice to say, Vinita has been a china painter for a very long time and has raised up around her a support group of talented china girls.

Harrison does remember that she loved china painting from her first exposure as a child. She saw a lady paint on china teacups in Branson.

“All she painted was violets, and she had cabinets full of the stuff. I was simply enthralled,” Harrison said.

Harrison credits her mother, who “painted a little and had a real talent for sewing and embroidery” for her creative gene.

“I just kind of fell into painting and china painting captured my passion. Anytime I saw it I was just riveted,” she said.

Vinita does remember that Ellen Gardner encouraged her to take art classes at Arkansas Tech University and to join the china painting group.

“Barbara Cousar was the first teacher in Russellville, and I think she’s still painting,” member Pat Kolb said. “She’s who I called to inquire about painting. That’s how I found out about Vinita.” That was 30 years ago.

Kolb had tried water coloring first under “Ms. Polly,” “but I painted like a mad hatter splattering water everywhere. I didn’t think watercolor was for me.”

When she met Vinita everything just clicked. “She was so patient with me. She would spend two hours on one tiny stroke. I remember I was working on forget-me-nots. Bless her heart, she didn’t give up on me.”

“And I found her through Betty Campbell,” Lillian Johnson said.

Harrison raised four children, Jan Michael, Jeannie, John and Jeff, and had her hands full when they were young. Painting was something she always wanted to do but simply lacked the energy and time until they were older.

Daughter Jeannie Wichmann saw evidence of her mother’s artistic leanings growing up.

“She always encouraged us to tap into our creative side,” Wichmann said. “She’s so talented, and she loves to share her talent and encourage others. I love to crochet and garden because of my mother’s influence, but my brother Jeff is an architect, and he does all that sculpting and painting too.”

After the loss of Harrison’s husband last year, the club has become her therapy.

“Well, this is definitely a therapeutic class,” club member Gay Nolen said. “I moved here from Louisiana, and I heard about Vinita through a friend in Little Rock before I even moved.”

Fellow club member Helen Kooken added, “Pat is a retired nurse, and Gay’s from Louisiana so, therefore, we don’t know what her background is.” Everybody laughed.

“I found Vinita by Mary Branch,” U’ilani Cooper, another class member, said. “I was taking beading class and saw Vinita’s paintings on teacups, and I just wanted to learn that too.”

And she is glad she found the club. “This is such a fun group.”

“Well, we’re certainly a diverse group,” Kolb added. “Jennie and her husband retired from teaching in Alaska.”

Harrison spoke proudly of her girls’ accomplishments.

“Gay teaches a portrait class at her beautiful studio on Highway 7. She has several works on display at Oklahoma City.”

Oklahoma City is hallowed ground. There, one can wander the gleaming halls of the World Organization of China Painters Museum. It is quite an honor for a piece to be selected for exhibition.

When the talk turned to Oklahoma City, the friends stated a buzz. Plans were being made to take a field trip.

“Oh, wouldn’t that be fun,” Harrison said. “That will have to wait, though,” she said. “We’re getting ready for the annual convention in Searcy.”

Harrison shared praise. “Everyone has

their own style, and we are constantly working at improving it.”

There has not been a class fee for a long time. Harrison may have taught the others how to paint, but she insisted she doesn’t teach anymore. “Everyone just helps each other,” Harrison said.

“Oh yes, she does!” Lillian Johnson exclaimed.“Sheteachesme.”Nolenagreed. Harrison shared that she is teaching a

sunflower painting seminar Oct. 22-24 at her studio.

“I think it’s already full,” Kolb said. “There are painters from Ft. Smith and us.”

Several of the class members have dabbled on the side, so to speak. Kolb knitted for years.

“It’s a miracle my children don’t have knitting needles growing out of their skulls and ears and everywhere. They were just rolling around in it.”

It is old-fashioned fellowship that keeps these busy women returning to the pool room every week. According to Harrison, the club meets as a Tuesday afternoon group. Everyone agreed the club has been going strong for 40 years. Even today, the pool cabana reverberates with laughter erupting under the smell of paint and mineralspirits.

“You know, I don’t know why we chose china over another medium, but I just always loved it,” she said. And the chattering goes on all around her.

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