Artist of the Month: Conway League of Artists

By Susan L. Peterson

Fifty years ago, five women came together at the right time and place to organize a group for artists in their community. Little did this diverse group of women, aged 31 to 65, each with diverse talents and abilities, know how successful their endeavors would be.

The Conway League of Artists (CLA) provides artwork at First Security Bank on Front Street in downtown Conway, along with other locations in the city. The artwork is traded out regularly. Members include Dimitri Papadimitriou (from left), Tracy McGarrity, Katy Killingsworth, Virginia Potter (holding artwork ), Karen Freeman, Marilyn Rishkofski and Christina Blum. Photo by Stefanie Brazile.

This year, the Conway League of Artists (CLA) has more than 80 members and is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Over the years, it has positively impacted the work of hundreds of local artists.

Unlike some art groups that focus on a single medium, CLA encompasses a variety of artists. Members work in pastels, watercolor, oils, acrylics, ceramics, photography, woodworking, printmaking and anything in between.

Using EPIC as their newly adopted tagline, the group seeks to Educate, Promote, Inspire and Connect.

In its mission to educate, a meeting is held once a month, usually at the Faulkner County Library. Typically, a program is presented at each meeting that includes a hands-on activity or an invited speaker. Members may also bring submissions for Art of the Month. These paintings are exhibited at locations in town for a month.

Workshops are held several times a year for members to hone their skills or to learn a new technique. Painting with a palette knife and using pastels were two daylong workshops held last year.

The group helps to promote its members through its annual art shows. Approximately $1,200 was awarded in various categories at the Fall Show, a tidy sum for a group its size.

CLA seeks to inspire new artists by making an annual contribution to UCA’s Dorris Curtis Scholarship, which is given to a student at the University of Central Arkansas majoring in art. Funds for the scholarship are raised by raffling member-donated artwork at each meeting. The recipient is invited to present a program to the group about their innovative work.

Members often collaborate with other groups to donate their talents for various causes. Long-time members Sheila Parsons and the late Suzann Waggoner often donated their time and skills to create paintings onsite for auction at various fundraising events. Members also participate in city Art Walks and festivals, sometimes providing activities for children.

Christina Blum is the newly elected president of the group. She and her husband moved from Iowa to Conway at the start of COVID-19. When the group returned to in-person meetings, joining CLA was a means for her to meet others with similar interests, and she was amazed by the talent she encountered.

Blum recalled how the group struggled during COVID-19 and how difficult it was to regain momentum. “We met at the library, the rec center and in people’s homes,” she said. “We connected. Artists are unique, creative individuals who help me see the world in a slightly different way. They open my eyes to new and exciting things.”

Last year as vice president, Blum organized field trips to the Arkansas Museum of Arts and to Crystal Bridges. Informal Third Thursday Coffee meetings were also initiated for members to discuss their work, share information and provide support to others.

It might be said that everyone is an artist. But to hone that skill, that ability to take a thought or a feeling and with a few brush strokes express it in a way that moves others, can take a lifetime to master. Having the support of others can make all the difference.

Charter member Virginia Potter said it best: “Just five women birthed the League all those years ago, but it takes more than giving birth to be a mother. It takes nurturing.”

The group will be celebrating its anniversary at a special meeting to be held this spring at Hendrix’s Windgate Center in conjunction with their exhibit, “In the Shadow of the Moon.”

Those wishing to begin or continue their own artistic journey are encouraged to join. A list of meeting dates and activities can be found on Facebook, in the newsletter or on the website Visitors are welcome.