The 100 Faces of Conway Project

Art and Story By Faye Hedera

January rolled in quietly this year, following a loud and joyful holiday season. There are still a few unpacked boxes tucked away in the garage. The whirlwind of adjustment has finally settled; we are done with the exhaustion of relocating from Florida.

My year was an open book. I sat in my studio and stared at the disorganized bins of paint scattered around, reflecting on the months that loomed ahead. I’m familiar with the specific loneliness inherent in human migration. The foreign city is not your own; its family lore and catastrophes are not in your blood. You are cut off from knowing the silent history of place.

Faye Hedera paints a portrait of Associate Vice President Outreach & CommunityEngagement at UCA, Dr. Shaneil Ealy.

For months prior, I had returned again and again to this quote: “You still haven’t met all of the people who are going to love you.” It gave me hope that the suffering of an isolated pandemic had not removed the potential for giving and receiving generosity and warmth. I fully believe that love multiplies love. As I was pondering this, the idea came to me in an “Emily of New Moon” flash. These visions are rare for me and I have learned from experience that they are not to be ignored. Quickly grabbing a pencil and a sheet of paper, I scribbled it down.

100 portraits of my new community.

Their stories, written in their words and shared. All of us creating a beautiful snapshot of who lives beside us.

Before I could begin to doubt myself, I reached out to five people who had already touched me in some way, asking if they would want to participate and if they knew other people who were doing good things. Their responses of excitement and curiosity gave me enough bravery to venture onward. The project blossomed as nominations for participants began to flow.

A few days after the initial inspiration, I picked up my brush and set my palette beside the very first empty canvas. Verdell Bunting was the perfect intro to the project, an elementary school teacher who has been courageously inspiring young minds in Conway for 25 years. As the next faces followed, each one presented a different view of my new hometown.

The man who makes delicious meals for the hungry. The woman with a passion for making gardening accessible to all. The artist who is known for introspective and intelligent work. When people ask what my ideal stipulation for a nominee is, I will say that I want to paint nice people who are loved. Their eyes light up when they immediately think of someone who fits perfectly within those parameters.

From the very beginning, I knew that I wanted to give the portraits away. I was searching for a local organization that was already doing incredible work, and it was through a nomination that I came across Haven, a nonprofit that provides treatment and housing for adolescent girls who have experienced trauma in the Arkansas foster care system. I knew immediately that I wanted them to benefit from my work. The message I want to convey with this project is that we are all connected, sometimes in more exquisite ways than we realize. That truth resonates so well with what Haven is wanting to communicate to the girls in their care. When the portraits are completed, we will have an exhibition of all 100 faces. Each one will be sold at a cost the subject can afford, and the proceeds will go directly to bettering the lives of our Arkansas girls.

As I sit in the early morning light of a day inching closer to spring, my coffee is ready for a refill. The project is still new as I get my studio ready for portrait 11, Deborah Edwards.

She has devoted her life to rescuing injured and orphaned wild animals for rehabilitation. One of the best parts about starting this adventure is my continuous surprise at the variety and depth of the other humans here. Each day, I have the privilege of reading your stories and painting your features, getting to know this vibrant place I now call home.

Editor’s note: Nominations remain open until all 100 spots are filled. Submit nominations by email to [email protected].

As part of the nomination process, Hedera asks the participants to reflect on what the community means to them.  She also asks those who nominate someone for the project to describe why he or she should be a ”Face of Conway.”  Some of the responses she received are printed below. 

“When we moved here from Los Angeles, it was really a trust fall  … we honestly weren’t sure what our careers would look like here in Conway. To our surprise, this has been the birthplace of new creative dreams for the both of us and an amazing place to raise a family.”

Jessica Crum,

CEO Silverlake Design Studio

 “Despite moving to Conway and beginning a new career in the middle of a pandemic, my wife and I knew immediately we were home  … there is something special about this town and it’s people. You know it when you live here but you realize it even more when you’re away.”

Jeremy Higginbotham,

PUBLISHER 501 Life Magazine 

“I was Assistant Principle at Carolyn Lewis Elementary at the time and walked into the cafeteria with the entire school present  … it was such an honorable moment that I will never forget. It has brought so much joy to my life  …”

Carise Echols,

Elementary School PrincipAL

“During the pandemic, Marvin celebrated his 50th birthday. Instead of a party and gifts  … he invited the community to bring non-perishable items to further his community meals and support the UCA food pantry. Marvin was overwhelmed when many of his friends in Conway, from Little Rock and even his hometown in Osceola, showed up with food donations. It was a very special day.”

Marvin Williams, 

Student Success Coordinator, UCA

 “I was 5 years old when my Mom and I moved to Conway. I have autism, so change is sometimes hard for me, but I quickly fell in love with my new school  … I use an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) app to communicate and was soon telling my Mom where I wanted to go. I would type on my AAC, ‘I want eat Stoby’s hamburger’ and she would take me. I love their cheese dip too.”

Brady Billingsley, 

Swimmer, candy enthusiast  

“I saw my first art exhibit at Hendrix, my first musical at UCA, and checked out my first novel (Ivanhoe) from the Faulkner County Library  … after the librarian called my mother to make sure to do so would be appropriate. Having too many good memories to have a favorite is reassuring  …”

 Barbara Satterfield, Ceramic Artist

“I was given the opportunity to be the Art Liasion at UCA downtown and there I was able to grow as a curator and connect with amazing artists! I have found an enriching personal and professional life through the arts here in Conway!”

Nakeya Palmer, Curator & Higher Education Program Coordinator for Art & Design, UCA

“One of my biggest passions is working with students … I teach because I want to be the kind of teacher that I needed when I was a student. I always strive to be as inclusive and accepting as possible, to be a voice of those who may be marginalized.” 

Johnny Passmore,

Realtor, Teacher, Business Owner, ActOr

“I remember the first downtown event I participated in as a farmer; I was beyond nervous and wasn’t sure if anyone would even come to visit my booth, but before I knew it, we had lines backed up. When I envision this movement for Conway, I dream big and hope to … continue to raise awareness of the importance of supporting local farmers.”

Jill Ragan, Farmer & Author