Something magical has been happening in the Illinois River Watershed. Nature loving artists have been trekking through pastures, along streams and across meadows to capture the beauty in their brush strokes. Vivid layers of oil, dabs of acrylic and gentle washes of water color — the landscape of NW Arkansas and NE Oklahoma came to life under their inspired touch.

Forty artists exhibited more than 50 pieces of art as part of the Illinois River Salon last week. And one man was tasked with judging their work and selecting the best of the best. Andy Thomas is an artist in his own right. A renowned painter of realism who lives in Carthage, Missouri, he is known for telling stories through his work.  His pieces grace museums, magazine, books and videos.  But despite his considerable expertise, the role of judge to this superb collection must have been a daunting duty indeed.

Illinois River Salon display of winners

The winning entries of the 2013 Illinois River Salon

“Restoration of Our Rivers” conference at Crystal Bridges Museum


So, with a true appreciation for the talent demonstrated in these submissions, we present the Winners of the 2013 Illinois River Salon.

Windgate Watershed Artist Series Best of Show


Sunrise at City Lake, Bill Garrison


Living amidst the beautiful landscapes of Arkansas, Bill Garrison finds inspiration for his paintings literally in his own back yard.

“Being an artist is a continuous learning process. I think I have learned more from the process of plein air painting than from any other source. Painting on location outdoors forces me to paint more quickly and intuitively because of the constantly changing lighting conditions. Having painted in many locations, I find that painting the landscapes of Arkansas is the most fulfilling of all.”

Sunrise at City Lake depicts City Lake, north of Siloam Springs.



Osage Creek Award


Misty Morning at Flint Creek, Karolyn Farrell


Karolyn Farrell taught art in Maryland, Missouri and Arkansas.  She recently retired as Director of the Fayetteville School District’s Adult and Community Education program.  Karen tends to focus on bright colors in nature around her mountainside home and in her travels. She is moved by the landscapes and cityscapes in various light patterns and hopes her work brings happiness and serenity to her clients and viewers.

Farrell quotes Robert Henri who says  “The arts were developed to allow us to capture and recall moments of our greatest happiness and of our greatest wisdom.”

Misty Morning at Flint Creek depicts Flint Creek, north of Siloam Springs.



Spring Creek Award


Camping on the Illinois, Jason Sacran

Jason Sacran and his family live in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he was the curator for the Fort Smith Art Center for almost three years before becoming a full-time artist/painter, and part-time instructor for the University of Arkansas Fort Smith.

Jason says his work “is about the process of creating by painting subjects that evoke a mood or feeling introspectively. I am interested in documenting things of today, mostly with overlooked or even forgotten aspects of everyday life – scenes we pass by every day, objects we often use, people we know well, but hardly ever think twice about. In the chaos of daily life, I believe we all take the simple and familiar things for granted. Sometimes they are the very things we come to miss.”

Camping on the Illinois depicts the Illinois River, down Oklahoma Hwy 10.


Clear Creek Award


Hear the Tiny Echo, L.S. Eldridge

L. S. Eldridge is an award winning artist from Rogers, Arkansas.  In 2010 Eldridge decided to focus on watercolors exclusively.  “I am drawn to many subjects, but my favorites for reinterpretation involve machinery and the transient beauty of construction.”

She admits that her winning entry is “a departure from my favorite subject, but I am very pleased with the outcome… The title is a worked around a theme: Hear, a synonym for understanding; and “Echo” a homophone for eco. Always fun to play around with a title.”

Eldridge blogs regularly and graces each post with quotes such as this…  “How I wish that mankind would take the sunrise for their slogan and leave the shadows of the sunset behind them.”  – Helen Keller

Hear the Tiny Echo depicts the Sanctuary walls in Cave Springs


Sager Creek Award


Creek Textures, Charles Harrington

Charles Harrington is a retired University professor. The diversity of his life and professional experience has given him a unique and perhaps unconventional perspective on the world of fine art.  “I am primarily a landscape painter”, he says. “It is in the beauty and the complexities of my natural environment that I find inspiration for most of my paintings.”

His objective is to share a moment, a mood, or the beauty of a “place”.  “It is my hope that the inspiration and the depth of feeling that motivated me to paint a particular subject will resonate with the viewer in a meaningful way.”



Flint Creek Award


No Head Hollow, Donna Jackson


Donna Jackson lives on Grand Lake in NE Oklahoma and discovered her love of drawing and sketching quite early.  She would often sit and draw her grandfather from life. During those early years, portraiture became her first love; landscapes and still lifes soon followed.

Formal art schooling gave her a foundation to build upon, but it was only the beginning of a lifelong pursuit of excellence. “True education comes with the paint brush in hand,” says Donna, who feels that every painting is an amazing learning experience.

No Head Hollow depicts the Illinois River at a recreation area near Talequah.


And the Winners Are…

Such an inspiring group of paintings!  To see each of the works in the 2013 Illinois River Salon exhibit, take a look at the catalog of entries. You will immediately understand how difficult it must have been to select the winners for this event!

But, ultimately, after reflecting on these amazing vistas, I think you will agree that the real winners are each of us who are fortunate enough to live in this beautiful landscape — a watershed that truly deserves our stewardship. It’s up to us to preserve and restore it to be enjoyed both now and in future generations.  And, of course, to be the subject of many more such memorable works of art.


Related Links

2013 Illinois River Salon Art Exhibition Catalog

Map of Illinois River Salon locations

Heart of America Artists Association


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