Appreciate The Ordinary: Connection creates magic in mundane places

Appreciate The Ordinary: Connection creates magic in mundane places
BECCA MARTIN-BROWN
bmartin@nwadg.com

Galen Hunter

It might sound like Galen Hunter’s art is utilitarian.

“A lot of the buildings I paint are not important in terms of being anything more than a shelter for a certain type of business or manufacturing operation,” says the longtime Fort Smith architect and artist. “They are not architecture with a capital ‘A.’”

But he’d like viewers of his work — currently showing in an exhibit titled “Close to Home” at the Fort Smith Museum of History — to consider the concept more completely.

“It is this lack of pretense that makes [these buildings] approachable and also interesting in their own way,” he says of “the mundane structures and landmark architecture that comprise the built environment in and around Fort Smith.” “These buildings do not rely on decoration, but they are not without character. What makes these buildings interesting to me, and I think the viewer, is the attachment to our shared past.”

“Whether it’s the church they were a member of at some time in their life or a drive-in where they got a French dip sandwich when they were in high school, there is a story for them with that painting,” says Hunter. “It is probably not the same story that caused me to choose that building as a subject, but there is a connection for each of us.” (Courtesy Image/Galen Hunter)

“Close to Home” includes paintings of what Hunter says are “structures located in areas of town that have declined as the city continued to develop towards the east and away from the city’s origins close to the Arkansas River. Many of these repurposed buildings have signage located on or surrounding the building which adds another level of detail to catch the viewer’s eye.” The pieces have been grouped into five different sections — Downtown, West (Towson and Wheeler Avenues), Midtown, East and South, and Surrounding Cities. Hunter grew up in Fort Smith, and these are his familiar stomping grounds. And, he adds, art was his first love.

“Back when I was a kid — the ’60s — you could teach school without a college degree, which my mom did when she started,” he remembers. “She had gone to the University of Southern Mississippi before moving to Arkansas to teach. When she went back to finish her elementary education degree at the UA in Fayetteville in the summers, I would do the work for her art classes. I was probably in second or third grade at the time. So I got an early start, and my mom and teachers encouraged me. I loved to draw, and I got attention because I was good at it.”

In high school, Hunter was required to take drafting, and perhaps that influenced him to choose architecture as a career.

“I was concerned that if I did get an art degree, I might not be good enough to make a living at it,” he recalls. “I knew you got to draw a lot in architecture school, and architecture was both creative and had a business angle, so I signed up for architecture school [at the University of Arkansas]. Architecture school is enlightening and challenging, and I loved it.”

And then fate brought art back into focus for Hunter. Architect and watercolorist George Dombek was one of his second-year instructors.

“I was amazed by the watercolors he had been doing of fire escapes in San Francisco,” Hunter marvels. “This opened my eyes to the fact that architects could really do a lot of different things, not just design buildings. After I got out of architecture school, I devoted most of my attention to architecture. However, I always tried to draw when I was on vacation and kept a sketchbook of my travels.”

Hunter says a 2019 exhibit at UAFS taught him that while audiences appreciated paintings from his travels, “the ones from Fort Smith elicited the strongest reactions.”

“People could relate to the subjects in the painting,” he says. “Whether it’s the church they were a member of at some time in their life or a drive-in where they got a French dip sandwich when they were in high school, there is a story for them with that painting. It is probably not the same story that caused me to choose that building as a subject, but there is a connection for each of us.”

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FAQ

‘Close To Home’:

Art By Galen Hunter

WHEN — 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, through Oct. 1

WHERE — Boyd Gallery at the Fort Smith Museum of History

COST — $2-$7

INFO — 783-7841, fortsmithmuseum.org

BONUS — Hunter will speak on his style, research methods, inspirations, etc., at 6 p.m. Sept. 16. Museum admission is required.

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Listen Here!

Podcast

Listen to a conversation between Galen Hunter and Free Weekly Editor Becca Martin-Brown here:

https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2021/aug/13/listen-whats-podcast-fort-smith-artist-galen-hunte/

Categories: Galleries