Coalgate artist has always been a doodler

Monday, November 22nd 2004, 6:41 am
By: News On 6

COALGATE, Okla. (AP) _ Ray Heard has always been a doodler.

``I was just one of those kids who doodled,'' Heard recalled. ``I wanted to be a musician, but I doodled instead of doing my lessons. I got lower grades in school because I doodled on my papers.''

Heard still doodles on paper ... and on canvas ... and on anything he can find to splash with paint. He's painted landscapes, mosaics, portraits and the outside of the old coal miner's house that was once his family's home and which he now operates as one of the few true art galleries in south central Oklahoma.

``Oklahoma has never really been an art destination, but there is a lot of talent here,'' explained Heard, who opened his gallery in September.

A native of Norman, Heard once worked as a chimney sweep to pay the bills, but he has paid his way as a full-time artist since 1999. His paintings are bright and vibrant, and his subjects can range from a beachscape of Laguna Beach, Calif., to a portrait of the old Coal County Courthouse. He acknowledges, however, that Coalgate isn't the logical place to open a gallery.

``There's not a lot of art appreciation in Coalgate yet,'' he said. ``The question I've been asked most is, 'Do you paint horses?'.

``People seem to show more interest in some of scenes I've painted in Taos and Santa Fe, N.M., than they do in the paintings I've done of old scenes in Coalgate.''

Heard said he has painted almost everything at one time or another to make a buck and acknowledges that he has been the classic ``starving artist'' for most of the 14 years since he began to make the transition from amateur doodler to professional painter. He hopes the framing, matting, specialty painting and restoration services he offers at his gallery will pay the bills this winter while he creates new paintings to show next spring.

``This is truly a full service gallery,'' Heard said. ``We do everything involved in restoring old pictures, from repairing a crease across a face to major reconstruction.

``I carry frames in all styles and price ranges, including Larson-Juhl, which are the Cadillac of frames,'' he added. ``People can come to Coalgate and get the same frames they can get in the best shops in Oklahoma City and Dallas, and they can find them at a country price.''

Heard said he can also do ``museum quality'' matting, in addition creating paintings from photographs, and he sells a line of jewelry made by Margie Powell of Coalgate.

``I'm excited about art,'' he said. ``I think people can see that when they walk in the door.''

Some of Heard's work over the next few months will be on display at his gallery, but he acknowledges he will probably have to go elsewhere to get the best price for his paintings.

``People in Oklahoma just don't pay a lot for art,'' he said. ``When we go to art shows, we set up in tents, and people think it's more like a swap meet. They're always trying to talk me down on the price.''

Heard's gallery contains more than 300 prints of his work, ranging in price from $5 for small 5x7 pieces to ``$80 or $90'' for larger prints.

His largest piece, though, is the gallery itself. The small, neat frame structure _ white, with lavender and yellow and blue trim _ is located across the road from the Coal County Coal Miners Museum and is a stark contrast to the coal country around Coalgate.

``Art and Frame Gallery'' is painted in big red letters on the front of the house on a bright yellow background, and painted-on fish swim amid underwater scenes on the east walls. A sign, also hand-painted, of course, in the front yard says ``Hunting Photos Framed'' _ a concession to the reality of crossover art gallery economics in rural Oklahoma.

Although it no longer resembles the structure that housed coal miners decades ago, the building is nonetheless part of the area's history. Heard hopes his gallery can be part of Coal County's future as well.

He returned to Coalgate earlier this year from California ``to save the old house, and then I was going back.''

But, he never left. He formed a bond with the house, almost as if it was a living thing, and a dream began to take shape.

``It was a nostalgia thing,'' he added. ``I used to spend summers here fishing, and I really loved it.

``My brothers didn't have the money or the time to fix it up,'' Heard continued. ``I didn't have the money, but I had the time.''

While he remodeled the house, he returned to his roots, taking odd jobs around Coalgate, including working as a chimney sweep, to pay the bills.

``I'm using that money to fix up the house and to pay for newspaper advertising,'' Heard said.

Anyone who looks at Heard's paintings can see in them a genuine love for the work and the subject matter, whether it is a hotel in Taos or a mosaic impressionism painting of an airborne bullrider hovering above a bull-of-many-colors.

He started by painting his ``nostalgia series'' of landmarks in Norman, and he recently completed a ``feel-good series'' of bright, musical mosaics.

``I just believe in doing the most with the talent God gave me,'' Heard said. ``And I have faith that he'll keep leading me to success.''