Cathy Mason, ’11, has been creating art since she was 5 years old, and she doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
Mason, who graduated from the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith with degrees in psychology and studio art, was in Fort Smith last fall to sign copies of children’s books she illustrated and one she wrote and illustrated. This fall, she will have an art show at the Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center.
With the encouragement of a middle school art teacher and her parents, who gave her her first set of paints in seventh grade, and a fondness for Norman Rockwell, Mason happily developed artistic techniques and styles on her own. In 2004 she had a successful exhibition of 13 paintings of barns in Crawford County at the Center for Art and Education in Van Buren. But when she was challenged at the exhibition to say where she studied art, she knew she needed some formal training.
She enrolled at UAFS as a psychology major with a minor in art. But, just when she was about to graduate, the university launched a studio art major, so she put off graduation long enough to complete a second bachelor’s degree.
Along the way, Mason attended a writer’s conference, where she met a children’s book writer Linda Apple from Fayetteville. Apple asked Mason to illustrate her book, and within a week the two had signed a contract, and Mason started working on illustrations for “Poppa’s Very Special Sunflower.”
Mason also illustrated “Henry’s Search Begins” for Amanda Heim of Fort Smith. And she wrote and illustrated “The Penguin, the Dolphin and the Pelican.”
“To take manuscripts and create a story through visual art brought me so much enjoyment and drove me hard to complete the work at hand,” Mason said, describing her process. “(I) was often (working through) midnights, long afternoons and days without rest. … It is exhausting when I am in the flow of working on both writing and illustrating at the same time, as they go hand in hand with turning a manuscript into visual art.”
Mason said she is glad for the opportunity to work as a teaching artist through the Arkansas Arts Council with the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum, the Center for Art and Education, BOST and the Reynolds Cancer Support House.
“I am grateful that I have the ability to help them express what they dream,” she said.
Mason credits many of her professors with helping her develop her skills: English professor Dr. Cammie Sublette; assistant professor of English Dr. Carol Westcamp; humanities professor Dr. Steven Husarik; psychology Dr. Janet Sanders; assistant professor of art Peter Collum; and Dr. Henry Rinne, former dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
“Without all these valued professors who lifted me up when I was about to give up, I would not have had the strength to fight to make it through my double major.”
Mason will be able to show her gratitude to her alma mater later this year when she has an art show in the Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center.
Although the path she has traveled in pursuit of “doing what makes my heart beat” has sometimes been roundabout, she thinks all her experiences help her to portray humanity.
“I hope (I) express more clearly what other people experience in life through both their trials and accomplishments,” she said.