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South Arkansas Arts Center exhibit “Portraits: A Painted History of El Dorado, 1852-2016” has been extended through Friday.

The exhibit, which was originally supposed to end today, focuses on portraits of El Dorado residents through the ages. The subjects range from local celebrities such as Charles Murphy and Arkansan civil rights leader Daisy L. Gatson Bates, to paintings of modern residents’ children.

The project was the brainchild of co-curator Mac Shepperson, who worked with his friend Ann Trimble, eventually partnering with the South Arkansas Arts Center and the South Arkansas Historical Preservation Society to present the exhibit to the public.

“Originally I had the idea, and a friend of mine Theodosia Nolan – she was a great patron of the arts and one of the benefactors of the Arts Center – she thought it was a really good idea, and she had a lot of portraits,” Shepperson said. “It just didn’t happen in her lifetime, but many of her friends bought into the idea, thought it was a good idea, which it was.”

The Nolan family is featured in the exhibit, as well as the Murphys and Barrows.

The Historical Preservation Society did not have an active role in gathering the collections, said business manager Jack Wilson, though they did loan some pieces typically housed at the Newton House Museum to SAAC for the exhibit.

“I’m really glad they decided to keep it up ‘til Friday. It’s a really great thing,” Wilson said of the exhibit’s extended run.

Laura Allen, SAAC executive director, said they decided to extend the exhibit so that Alex Jeffery, a local filmmaker, could make a video of the gallery’s features. The Historical Preservation Society will sponsor the video, though Wilson said they have not yet decided what they will do with the video when it is finished. They also sponsored a catalogue that details the artists and the subjects of the portraits on display, which is on sale at SAAC for $15.

School and Campfire groups have visited the gallery, including the fifth and sixth grade Gifted and Talented Program classes. Allen said it has been a very busy gallery exhibit.

Photo by Caitlan Butler/News-Times
A portrait of Arkansan civil rights leader and journalist Daisy Lee Gatson Bates by artist Lakesia L. Bell is seen on display Monday at the South Arkansas Arts Center. Caitlan Butler/News-Times

“We’ve never had that many people’s faces in that room before. It’s cool – they have all these great clothes, and great accessories, and there’s just more stuff to look at every time I go in there,” Allen said.

Shepperson was the primary source for finding and assembling the exhibit’s collection. Through his work as an artist, he said that he had access to different people’s homes, where he initially saw many of the pieces featured.

“I pretty much just asked people if we could borrow their pictures for an exhibit and they said ‘yeah!’ So I just went around and gathered up people’s pictures, hung them all in the gallery, and it just turned out to be a really wonderful kind of cross-section of who’s who in El Dorado,” Shepperson said. “There’s a great spectrum of people represented … It’s very familiar to so many different people.”

Photo by Caitlan Butler/News-Times
A portrait of 1st Lt. Rufus Napoleon Garrett, Jr. by artist Raymond P.R. Nielson is seen on display Monday at the South Arkansas Arts Center. Garrett lost his life in the Battle of Normandy. Caitlan Butler/News-Times

Because of the extension, the Viewfinder photography contest’s deadline also has been extended until Friday, Allen said. The “Portraits” exhibit runs through Friday in the Price and Merkle Galleries at the South Arkansas Arts Center.

For more information, visit SAAC at 110 E. 5th St., or call 870-862-5474.

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