On a recent night in downtown Springdale, the art gallery and retail shop 12 Pedal Junction is positively buzzing as an "evening with the artists and their art" gets under way. It kicks off a new show that will remain on view until January.
The event just began, but the parking lot is already full. Upon entering, the place is packed with old friends catching up, family coming to support their most artistic members and former clients seeing their professional in a totally new light.
It's standing room only. I squeeze my way in and begin to take in the art, a mix of landscape and nature photography, impressionistic painting and more. It is, as promised, "a diverse array of artistic mediums."
After warm welcomes from owner Marsha Scott and her business partner Rhonda Dossett, I get comfortable in front of a particularly dramatic photograph of a band of horses, noticing how the photographer captured the flare of the sun around the chest of the horse in the lead.
That's what I was admiring when the photographer approached me for the kind of one-on-one conversation that the event promised its patrons.
DR. J.E. (JAY) MCDONALD
The horses of Camargue in southern France are a breed that's 800 years old, making it one of the oldest breeds in the world. The image of them -- gray in color and seemingly identical -- galloping through water is a popular one that photographers travel to the area to capture.
"It's just an amazing place," said Dr. Jay McDonald, an ophthalmologist retired from McDonald Eye Clinic, who has sharpened his travel photography skills these recent years.
Wranglers in the area help coordinate the sought-after photo opportunity, and McDonald came away with some images of the horses coming right at him.
The wrangler McDonald hired sat him down on the water's edge. He came prepared, dressed in waders.
"He said, 'Stand there and when the horses come, don't move,'" McDonald remembered.
The band of horses wasn't all that far away, but all of a sudden they started running at him at full speed. With such powerful animals coming at him, it took him a minute to realize this was his chance. Jay tried to shoot, constantly changing focus. The last things he saw were the chests of the horses as they split around him.
"I did what he said, I trusted him, but when horses come running at you full speed ... if you move, you move in their way [and you're in trouble]. But if you stand still, they move around you," McDonald said. It went against his natural instincts, but "I thought, 'This is my one chance; don't screw it up.'"
Photography is a love that Jay picked up from his father. Around 5 or 6 years old, he fell in love with stereographs, the handheld devices that use two photos to create a three dimensional image. Then at 7 or 8 years old, Jay discovered negatives in his family's basement -- the images of airplanes that his father enjoyed taking.
When McDonald was in medical school and his residency, he worked part time for a microanatomist who had an electron microscope and began to photograph things with it.
"I started developing and helping him with these images and they, of course, were completely abstract to anything you've seen, but I got attracted to that form, value, and it was all about value in these pictures," he said. "It was the dark and the light, the white and the black, and getting the edges. That really got me going."
These days, McDonald loves to shoot street scenes in New York and other big cities, capturing things that the average citygoer wouldn't pay attention to. And on a three week trip to India a few years ago, Jay relished the photographic opportunities everywhere -- the colors of the dresses women wore while working, a weathering rural worker and wide open landscapes.
Classically trained impressionist artist Barry Thomas has a reputation for painting portraits that capture the true essence of a person. In this show, however, he's featuring the works he's made of the Arkansas landscape -- the woods, the streams, the fields. It's part of his effort to move into a new chapter with his art.
Each of the paintings was started on location.
"A lot of this work is done by going and engaging with the forest and just camping out to find an unexpected area of the water, rock and textures," Thomas said. "To paint the forest, you need to stay the night there."
Much like in his portraiture, where he would sit down in the presence of someone without any noise coming in, he now sits in front of an oak tree or a stream for three or four or five hours to spend quality time with the subject, something he calls a romantic dance.
Thomas takes his teardrop camper to a location, sets up painting kits outside, then when he wakes up, he can go to them. He'll paint one scene in the morning and another in the afternoon, working straight through each until he's done.
Being able to move a painting to completion in one setting is something Thomas has developed over his 45 year career, beginning with freelance work in the film industry for Disney and Hanna-Barbera in Los Angeles in the early 1980s.
Back then, "I was hanging out with Disney artists, some of the best painters and drawers of human figures," Thomas said. "I knew I needed to get my skill level (up), so I hung out with them and then I broke off into the fine art world. I had that training for painting quickly, to paint on demand and skillfully."
The elements that he's most concerned with are the very things that an astronaut once told him he missed most when he was floating above earth -- gravity and texture.
"I don't paint what I see, I paint what I feel," Thomas said. Much like music, it's more about creating the feeling of the area he's portraying, something that comes from the heart and the soul. His favorite subject is whatever the light is hitting at the moment. "It could be a row of trees, shadows, (as) nature creates interruption of the light and shadow. Every object in nature is different and creates different abstraction of color relationship and shadow.
"Without light, you have nothing."
It all started when Craig Underwood's dad gave him a Pentax K1000, a completely manual camera, when he was in junior high in 1976. That's what got him into photography, but back then he mostly took pictures of family gatherings. Next Craig carried it to college, where he took pictures of parties and road trips. Once he got married, he took pictures of his kids growing up.
Now that his youngest is in high school, Craig Underwood has set out to perfect a type of photography he has always struggled with.
"I tried a couple times with landscape -- dismal failure," Underwood laughs while standing in front of beautiful images of the Ozarks cloaked in fog, streams weaving around mossy boulders and autumn leaves changing color. It was a three day class with iconic photographer Tim Ernst that helped him start tackling the difficulties and walking away with new, useful skills.
"I knew my way around the camera -- aperture, shutter speed, film speed, things like that, but the technical aspect of using a tripod and what time of day is best for shooting, using cable release, how to use a filter and when not to use it, technical things, I needed to know those," Underwood said. With Ernst's help, it just clicked. "It opened a whole new world to me."
Craig grew up participating in Boy Scouts and did a lot of camping, backpacking and hiking. But between work and raising a family, it had been years since he'd done much camping in Northwest Arkansas. Now he's got the perfect reason to get out: getting the perfect shot.
These days, he will find a remote location, camp for the night and get up early in the morning to hike and hunt for a good image. His favorites are along the Buffalo River, the Richland Creek Wilderness area and other creeks or waterfall sites.
"It's a nice, solitary thing to do," he said. "Where I work in retail and I'm around people all day, you're kind of 'on' in a sales situation, helping people with their needs." So "to be able to have some down time immersed in nature" is just what he needs.
Underwood mostly shoots in spring and fall, now with a Canon, and finds that he has just as much fun shooting boulders in a stream as he does with waterfalls. While waterfalls get the most attention from viewers, he appreciates the movement of a stream and the textures of a forest, what he and other photographers call a million shades of green.
Photography was the stress release that Craig Jones looked forward to when he would take vacations from his job as an attorney. Now that he's retired, he has the time to travel more and has gotten more serious about the endeavor of capturing what he sees.
Many of the images he displays at 12 Pedal Junction are animals. It all began with birds, because in Northwest Arkansas in the winter, there frankly weren't many other animals to take pictures of, he said, and without all those leaves, you can see them better.
Trips to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons were inspiring. This coming February, he plans to spend the entire month there to make good on all the opportunities to catch wildlife on camera.
"I can't wait," Jones said. "Give me a minus 21 degree morning and a good, frosty buffalo. There's nothing better. It's a whole lot more enjoyable, and I sleep better than when I practiced [law]."
Jones developed his photography skills through pure repetition, by spending time reading what other photographers do and watching videos. While some of his nature photography requires catching up with the extremely expedient -- a puffin in Iceland flying 55 miles per hour, an eagle coasting on a breeze and horses racing at Oaklawn -- others are decidedly less so, such as the moose that took an investment of three days of Jones' time. He waited two days and didn't see it, but on the third day, he got it within the first hour.
While staring at Jones' images of a fox curled up and a buffalo trudging through snow, a viewer feels close enough to touch the animal. To get the signature up-close look, Jones said he uses an 840 millimeter lens, then he enlarges it in a light room. In real life he's 50 to 100 yards or more from the animals he encounters because you "don't want to be that close to a buffalo."
Back home in Arkansas he uses a printer in Bentonville a couple times a week. Among Jones' bestselling photos, of which he's made 250 copies and counting, is the image of Oaklawn races continuing through heavy snow.
"People have asked me which one I like the most, and it's that one because it's so unique," Jones said. "It's a once in a lifetime deal. It just started snowing really hard in the fifth race. It snowed five inches, and they (just) kept running."
12 Pedal Junction
Located at 200 Holcomb St. in Springdale, 12 Pedal Junction is open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and the current art will be on show until January. Visit 12 Pedal Junction on Facebook or call (479) 435-5348.