An Art All Their Own
Local Children Artists

By Lee Ann Taylor • Photography by Brian W. McDonald

“Art has the role in education of helping children become like themselves instead of more like everyone else.” — Sydney Gurewitz Clemens

Encouraging creative expression boosts critical thinking and results in a more detail-oriented outlook, and while it is relatively easy to see how the influence of the arts can translate into more successful adults, it is sometimes a struggle to keep art and art education available to today’s youth. For those who have been exposed to these opportunities, often as a result of dedicated parents, teachers and principals, the results are truly a work of art. Here, we take a look at some of Dothan, Alabama’s best budding artists, filled with talent and promise—children with an art all their own.


Meredith Williams

For Meredith Williams, a third-grader at Houston Academy, art is all-encompassing. She speaks of robotics camps, science camps and art camps in terms of what she created at each. “I look to the scenery for inspiration,” she says. “Wherever I am, I look around, and I want to create.” Recently, Meredith took up the art of loom-weaving. “What I love most is that it’s very detailed work,” she says. “It’s challenging, and you have to be very focused and patient.”
       When Meredith grows up, she wants to be a video game engineer, animal rescuer or work as a designer on the T.V. show Tanked, but art also plays a huge role in her thoughts about the future. “My goal as an artist is to keep getting better,” she asserts. “I want to put a lot of feeling, work and focus into my pieces because one day I want to make a famous piece of artwork.”
       “Meredith’s language and art skills have amazed us since she was born,” Meredith’s mother, Jenny, says. “At 3, she would draw dinosaurs coming onto a page, walking off or peeking in from the top.” A pottery fairy cottage made at a Houston Academy art camp taught by Tarin Majure showcases Meredith’s attention to detail, a common thread across her works. Using pipe cleaners and beads, Meredith created a chandelier, an area rug and a weather vane for her cottage. “Meredith is one of many exceptional students,” Majure says. “She is very focused, and she puts a lot of love and energy into what she does.”
       Meredith’s Beach Mouse won First Place in the Alabama Wildlife Federation 2015 William R. Ireland Sr. Youth Wildlife Art Contest for the K-Second Private School Division. She was presented with a plaque and new art supplies in recognition of her accomplishment. “I used construction paper for the sand and the water, paper-mâché for the grass and colored pencils for the detail work,” Meredith says. “I liked the challenge of using so many materials and of competing, and it made me feel special to win.” Meredith plans to continue competing when the opportunity arises, but with wisdom that surpasses her years adds, “Art says to me—you’re different than everyone else, so don’t worry about what others can do. Focus and do your best.”
       Birthday parties at local art studios, sketching at the beach, doodling at dinner, Meredith makes time for her passion. Also involved in taekwondo, dance and piano, art is not the only way Meredith fills her time, but it is her favorite way. Pottery is one of Meredith’s preferred art forms. One of her latest creations is a heart-shaped pinch pot she made as a gift for her mother. She recalls the steps of forming, painting and applying a coat of glitter. The detail of the process is what draws her.
       Meredith gains inspiration from receiving and giving art. When the Williams’ neighbor moved away, she gave Meredith some of her woodwork as a parting gift. “It inspired Meredith to see a lady in her 70s still receiving such joy from the act of creating,” Jenny says. Meredith also enjoys sharing her artwork with others. Whether she is drawing flowers for her granny, hummingbirds for her nana or trees for her aunt Debra, Meredith says, “I like to know what someone enjoys. Then when I create it and give it, I like how my gift makes them feel well. It makes them forget about their troubles.”


       The Bakers added stained glass by Charles Adams atop the columns that divide the living room and kitchen from the back stairwell, which is lined with Christmas cards this time of year. “Christmas cards are definitely one of my favorite parts of the season,” Stephanie says. “I decorate with my Christmas cards. It’s fun for visitors and my girls to see their friends. I collect and save them each year.”
       The homeowners relocated a pie pantry that formerly resided in the kitchen to the living room for use as an entertainment center. “We wanted to keep it with the home, but it didn’t make sense for it to be in the kitchen, so we moved it in here,” Stephanie says. “It’s old, it’s pine, the doors don’t close, but it’s solid.” This piece is united with a mixture of distinguished and relaxed furnishings to create a comfortable elegance that balances the formality of the older home with real life for Matt and Stephanie, and their daughters, 9-year-old Campbell and 6-year-old Sara Gray. “This is where we watch football and the kids pull out sleeping bags and have sleepovers and there’s popcorn everywhere,” Stephanie says. “While this is a beautiful home and we love the historic heritage, this is a family home, not a museum.”
       Stephanie adds in regards to the living room, “This is Christmas headquarters. Santa comes here. ... This particular tree is all Christian icons—there are a lot of crosses, mothers and sons and angels. A lot were not made as ornaments—I had a cross collection years ago and they made their way from the wall to the tree.”
       In the neighboring dining room, a relief above the fireplace acts as the focal point. A gift from Jeremiah Henderson to his wife, Millie, it sets the tone for the room. “We use that as a sort of inspiration in here, playing off the cherubs and the gold,” Stephanie says. Large, heavy antiques collected over time combine with historical pieces, documents and photos dating back to the Henderson family to honor the style and heritage of the house. “It makes me appreciate my home more because we’re one of a long line of families that have lived here,” Stephanie acknowledges. “The furniture, portraits, the pieces—they don’t belong to us, they belong to the home, and if for some reason we’re not with the home, they will stay here.”
       Creating a rich melding of traditions by personalizing the room with Baker family heirlooms, the table is set with Stephanie’s grandmother’s crystal, her mother’s china and Matt’s grandfather’s goblets. “It’s important to me to incorporate family pieces, though I might do it in a little different way,” Stephanie asserts.

 

       This harmonizing of the past with modern-day life is also evident upstairs, where each bedroom features mature antiques paired with just enough playful touches to show the homeowners don’t take themselves or their living space too seriously. “I do have some eclectic art. That’s not typical of a historical home,” Stephanie affirms. “Every piece of art is local or I know the artist or it has a story behind it.” Year-round, angels are the subject of many of the works. “I love history, but I’ve still got somewhat of a modern style. It’s been fun to mix the two,” Stephanie remarks.
       Each daughter’s bedroom includes a tree designed to fit her interests, and off of the downstairs guest room, the Baker children have a hideaway playroom, once intended as the innkeeper’s sitting area, that also gets its own tree at Christmas. “This was a good way for me to incorporate ornaments they bring home from school,” Stephanie says.
       Now spending their fifth holiday season in the house, Stephanie reflects, “The first year we were here, I think I had six Christmas parties. ... It is fun to decorate and have people in our home, and I guess the essence of it is sharing our family and home and faith with others.”
 

The spacious rooms of the abode are particularly useful when the whole family of 30 to 40 comes over for a “Santa” Fe soup dinner Christmas Eve after strolling together to church. “It’s a formal setting, but it’s really not a formal affair,” Stephanie tells. “We have lots of musicians in the family, so they play and we have a sing-along. People are yelling over each other, and it’s loud, but it’s really fun."
       “Everybody that comes in this house says this is a happy home. I think it’s all the windows and all the light, and we used light colors. I also think there is a spirit of joy here. I love that we can walk to church every Sunday and we walk to the farmers’ market downtown and there are kids in the neighborhood,” Stephanie says. “This feels right to me. This is what home should feel like.”
       “Christmas is an opportunity for us to show our hospitality,” she continues. “It’s definitely about celebrating Jesus’ birth and the hope we can find in that. It’s family, and it’s about us finding ways to return our blessings or help others in the spirit of giving, and a time for us to stop and be thankful.”


“Santa” Fe Soup

2 pounds ground round
1 onion, chopped
2 (1-ounce) packages ranch dressing mix
2 (1.25-ounce) packages taco seasoning mix
1 (16-ounce) can black beans
1 (16-ounce) can kidney beans
1 (16-ounce) can pinto beans
1 (16-ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 (16-ounce) can Mexican stewed tomatoes
1 (16-ounce) can shoepeg corn
1 (16-ounce) can Mexican corn
2 (16-ounce) cups water
Sour cream, to garnish
Shredded cheese, to garnish
Sliced green onions, to garnish
Black olives, to garnish
Tortilla chips, to serve

Brown beef with onion. Stir in ranch dressing and taco seasoning mixes. Add remaining ingredients without draining. Cover. Simmer for 2 hours. Add additional water to keep soup from getting too thick. Add garnishes, as desired. Serve with tortilla chips. Serves 8 to 10.