For Ann Presley, art has been a regular part of life for over 30 years, a form of therapy, a way to connect with nature and a way to remember. Recently she presented the mayor and city council of Sherwood with a painting of the Round Top Filling Station, which local preservationists are seeking to make a police substation to save it from demolition. But the painting she originally donated to the group for auction almost fell through the cracks.
She gave the first new painting of the building (she had done an "ugly" painting of it decades before) to the group to auction last year, but the 16-by-20 oil on canvas was left out of the auction, and sold instead for $50, a very low price for a painting of that size and quality.
Presley arranged to meet with the buyer at the church they both attend, and fellow congregant and former long-time city clerk Amy Sanders saw the work and asked Presley if she’d paint another to present to the mayor and council. Presley agreed.
"I just always thought it was a neat building," she said." On Jan. 21, Amy and I presented (the second painting) to the mayor and city council."
Presley began serious painting in a high school art class and took the subject on and off during her college days. About 30 years ago, she started taking regular lessons from Coe Wilson when the latter lived in Sherwood.
"I decided I wanted to enter some contests and might eventually want to teach lessons or make it a business," she said. "I won a few of the Sherwood and other local contests."
She had settled into a sort of routine, doing landscapes and Native American-themed works, when a national tragedy pushed her in a different direction.
"(Hurricane) Katrina came along and I was just emotionally distraught by how badly people were treated along the Gulf Coast," she said. "So I did two collages (paintings with several connected scenes). Katrina I was set right after landfall, and Katrina II was from (later that year).
I guess (painting) is kind of a mental health therapy for me."
Her next theme was also in response to then-current events, as she began exploring military themes as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq started. She also sought to highlight women’s expanding role in these conflicts, both in traditional and new roles.
"I decided I wanted to show women because they had taken such an active part in Iraq and Afghanistan," she said. "I have one called ‘Careful’ where a woman is on her knees locating a landmine, and I have one of a nurse preparing to insert an IV."
An even more traditional image of a woman welcoming her husband home after deployment rep-resented Arkansas in the national Daughters of the American Revolution oils contest and won third place. But whatever the subject matter, Presley said it’s important to remember those serving in these times.
"I think it’s kind of like Korea, in that it’s being forgotten or put out of people’s minds," she said.
Presley is a member of The Art Group, which is currently occupying a storefront in the Pleasant Ridge shopping center in west Little Rock. She is a retired teacher and school librarian at Jacksonville Middle School, lives in Sherwood with her husband and daughter, and enjoys regular trips to Malvern to visit her son and grandchildren.