A Work of Art, A Labor of Love

by | Aug 1, 2010 | Features

A limited “teacher’s budget” caused the creative juices to flow in Dover Primary teacher Suzanne Srader. Struggling with the need to fill a blank wall with colorful images – images that could captivate the mind of a first grader – in her room on the newly- opened wing of Dover Primary School in 2009, Suzanne flipped through page after page of wall banners.
“Most were too expensive, or not the image I was searching for,” said Suzanne.
“I didn’t want my kids to walk into my room on the first day of class and find it boring, and I had this great space above their lockers that I knew I needed to fill with something to inspire their imagination.
“I knew that the new Disney princess movie, “The Frog Prince,” would be released soon, and, since my room is filled with frogs anyway, I wanted something that would capture and hold the attention of the “I knew the scene I wanted, a castle, water, a flowing stream… I found a similar scene in an expensive catalogue – it was $300! Way beyond my teacher’s budget,” Suzanne stressed.

“So, I thought of my cousin, Gary Lynn Adkison, a talented artist, and hoped I could twist his arm to do the painting for me.”
Suzanne recounted how many times she had called in favors from her slightly-older cousin, who used to “get stuck babysitting me when I was younger.” Suzanne and Gary are related through their mothers, Sue Humphrey and Opal Adkison.
The cousins are close although Suzanne had moved to and lived in New Mexico for some of her adult life, returning to the River Valley some ten years ago.
So with a plan to call upon Gary’s talented skills as a painter, Suzanne took crayons and paper in hand and began drawing a likeness of what she wanted on her wall hanging.

“It was awful. My mountains looked like triangles, the colors in the rainbow were wrong, but Gary saw the vision of what I wanted,” related Suzanne. “So, with a 4’x12’ painter’s drop cloth that I bought for $9.99 as a canvas and acrylic paints, he began to work.”
Suzanne explains that the wall hanging is much, much more than just a painting.
“It is truly a labor of love,” she explains. Gary, who has experienced two serious car wrecks and suffers from constant pain, had to work on the wall hanging while standing. The sheer size made it necessary to work on the piece while upright.
“He’s a walking miracle, though the pain he suffers daily is enormous,” said Suzanne. “The fact that he’s here, and still walking, is a miracle.” And yet, Gary describes his art as “relaxing.”
Unlike a regular artist’s canvas and with a definitely different texture, the drop cloth absorbed paint like nothing Gary had encountered before. “It was like a sponge; it soaked up the paint in an unbelievable way,” he recalled.

The banner, which Suzanne uses as a visualization for her students, is the envy of her fellow teachers. Gary quickly adds that this banner was strictly a labor of love for his cousin, “who can be quite persistent” and he’s out of the wall banner business.
She explains: “The banner is like a ‘picture in the mind,’ a scene that I use to get my students thinking about the story-telling, and later during the year, the writing process.”
“We begin with ‘once upon a time, (student’s name) lived in a beautiful castle. From there, the children begin to weave their story verbally. They learn the way that the structure of a story is written. Then, when they begin to work on their writing, we call upon those story-telling skills as a way of learning structure.”

With the banner complete and hung with the required poster hangers – “it’s a new school, after all, and we are very limited with what we can use on the walls,” Suzanne began creating her ‘learning kingdom’ before last year’s school year began.
A neighboring teacher loaned Suzanne a metal shield and a three-foot knight in armor which had been in her son’s bedroom. Both occupied a location on either side of the “learning kingdom.”
“One of my students turned, observing the banner, and asked me if the water was running,” Suzanne recalled, amused. “To them, and to us, the scene is that life-like.”
Gary, the son of Bob and Opal Adkison of Russellville, grew up in Dardanelle, along with his younger brother Greg who now lives in Little Rock.
“I believe I’ve been drawing as far back as I’m able to recall,” says Gary.

“It wasn’t until around my 4th or 5th grade elementary school years that I became aware that, to a lot of people, drawing things wasn’t developed along with learning to sign your name,” recalled Gary.
He admits his talent is responsible for getting out of a lot of class time while in high school.
“There was always someone who needed a backdrop or a poster, or something that needed my attention,” he chuckled.
Gary graduated from Dardanelle High School and attended Arkansas Tech University following graduation.
As Gary explains his path of life after high school and the early college years at Arkansas Tech, “Life happened,” and he left his original career path.
“I had thought about possibly instructing art, but things didn’t really go that way.”
He later attended ATU as a psychology major and professed his love of learning. He enjoys studying and researching, and admits to a love of science.
Speaking to Gary’s undeniable talent, Suzanne relays a story of Ajax can drawing that Gary did when he was three years old.

“He’d been bugging his mom to do something, so, out of desperation, she plopped him down in front of an Ajax cleaner can and he proceeded to draw. It was perfect, down to the last detail. His mom was astonished but she knew right then and there that Gary had an amazing ability.”
Beside his mom, his aunt Sue, Suzanne’s mother, is also one of Gary’s biggest cheerleaders, declares Suzanne.
Gary’s other ‘cheerleader’ Suzanne reminded him of one of her favorite drawings – charcoal pencil creations of life- like of Harley Davidson motorcycles. The rendition of a pair that Gary drew for himself and Greg.
“They used to pretend they were racing them, the drawings,” Suzanne added. “They were amazing.”
Gary admits that any type of vehicle drawings are a favorite theme – he has owned a number of classic mustangs.
“I enjoy any type of classic, hot rod muscle cars, and the like.”
With the subject of cars being broached, Suzanne interjects another family story, a time when Gary, who owned a Ford Pinto, had been “hired” to baby sit her as his “summer job.” After sharing a laugh about something involving “standing and looking out of the sunroof,” the pair quickly moves on to another story.
Before he moved back to Russellville from his former home in Jacksonville, Gary was reminded of the paintings he had done on the walls of his home, which he rented.
“When I moved in, I asked my landlord if I could paint murals on the walls – and volunteered to repaint them once again if I were to move out. She agreed. But, when I moved out, she specifically asked me NO to paint over the murals. I think she liked them that much.”

He’s painted satellite dishes and mail boxes, bleached cow skulls and weathered barn wood; he’s sketched beautiful women, painted murals and even painted the detail work on a stock car for a friend.
A recent work included charcoal sketches of airplanes for his father, Bob, who was a pilot during his service days. His creativity also lies in other areas, fashioning an entertainment center from an iron gate and a former picnic table. He created a curtain of sorts out of a barn window with original glass for Suzanne, which he painted with a favorite sunflower motif.
“He has produced his fair share of ‘shock factor art,’ as well,” interjects Suzanne. “But he is capable of doing absolutely anything,” chimes his biggest fan.
Gary said some of his greatest blessings stem from the numerous opportunities he’s been afforded to exchange personal ideas with individuals that he wouldn’t otherwise every rub shoulders with, if it weren’t for a “creative bridge.”
He’s made some amazing friends, “I’ve made a couple of friends who are quite well-off, millionaires, whom I’ve also done some pieces for. I did one as a gift but the recipient wouldn’t hear of it. I couldn’t believe he wanted to pay me for my work.”

“I don’t necessarily have a favorite medium to work with, but some feel more comfortable than others. If I find a three- dimensional object that may be restricted in order to provoke new impressions; I’d say that was most fun and creative for me.”
Gary has held an active life, working in different places as a paramedic, and other jobs, “which almost always ended up being in engineering,” he said. All the while, he continued to call upon his talent for personal enjoyment. But making a living off his art isn’t something that comes easily for the shy and humble artist.
He frequently gives away most of his artwork, attests Suzanne, though she tells him constantly that he should be earning “big bucks” for his work. He has performed commissioned work in the past but his greatest joy is giving a piece that he has created.
“Just to see the smile on the recipient’s face… that’s payment enough for me,” says the unassuming artist.
“I believe we are all here to use what we have. After all, we don’t get to take it with us,” Gary said, flashing a shy, Chuck- Norris-like grin.  

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