The Arkansas Arts Council recently announced that Hot Springs artist Richard Stephens is among the eight recipients of the 2018 Governor's Arts Awards.
For 27 years, the Governor's Arts Awards program has recognized individuals, organizations and corporations for their outstanding contributions to the arts in Arkansas, a news release said.
Stephens received the Individual Artist Award, which, according to the Arkansas Arts Council's website, is awarded to an artist active in the field of architecture, contemporary crafts, design, film, literature, performing arts, or visual arts, who has made significant contributions to his or her art form.
Each year, the recipients are nominated by the public and then selected by an independent panel of arts professionals from around the state. The recipients will be honored at a ceremony in the spring and will receive an original work of art created by Arkansas artist Patricia Holifield of Little Rock. Ceremony date and location information is forthcoming.
"For nearly three decades, the Arkansas Arts Council has been recognizing those who have made large contributions to the value of the arts in our state," said Stacy Hurst, director of the Department of the Arkansas Heritage, in the release. "We are thrilled to honor them for their accomplishments, artistic talents, and dedication to positively impacting the cultural heritage of Arkansas."
Stephens, an internationally recognized watercolor artist, told The Sentinel-Record on Friday he is "thrilled and honored" to have been considered for the award.
"As a native of Arkansas, and obviously a native of Hot Springs, it's a real special honor for me to be recognized at this stage in my career as the artist of the year. I know that there have been many before me and I know that there will be many after me, but I am just thrilled about it," he said.
Gary Simmons, another local artist and dear friend of Stephens', was awarded the Individual Artist Award in 2001.
"I was at Gary's ceremony, along with a lot of his other friends, and I thought at that time how special it was and that maybe if I keep working at it and keep improving my skills, maybe some day I might be considered for that, and that has happened," Stephens said. "It's something I've had in the back of my mind, 'Boy, that would be neat if that could happen,' and I'll be darned, it has -- dream come true."
Stephens said he believes he was nominated for the award by Simmons and two others who are involved in the arts in Hot Springs, Dorothy Morris and JoAnn Mangione.
"They all did that together -- I was not aware of it and that kind of made it even more special for me, that it was a total surprise when it was announced. Those three folks are the reason that it happened," he said.
Stephens was a graphic designer for 45 years and, for the past 18, has been conducting watercolor workshops around the country, a passion that he said keeps him going.
"I really enjoy that process and sharing with students what little knowledge I have and my experiences and philosophies and process. Both my parents were schoolteachers so maybe that's in the genes or in the blood. Just the experience of making art, having high standards," he added.
"Don't listen to your friends and family" is one piece of advice Stephens said he bestows upon his workshop students, adding, "(Family and friends) are going to tell you how wonderful you are, and that's great, but have high standards. Judge your work by those that you admire. I look at who I consider to be top water colorists in the world and I aspire to that level, to their work, so if I'm light years away from it, it's still very, very important to have those high standards.
"Water coloring, more than most mediums, you're going to fall short of that because it has a mind of its own and you can't control it, or you shouldn't try to control it."
According to the release, Stephens was chosen as one of the first Hot Springs National Park Artists in Residence when the program was initiated in 2004. He has exhibited work at the First Friday Gallery Walk in Hot Springs since 1980 and has been generous in donating his time and artwork in support of many nonprofit organizations, fundraisers and events.
"This is what I've done all my life. As a child, my parents said all I did was lay on the floor and draw and I think for a lot of artists, that was their childhood experience, too," Stephens said.
Other 2018 Governor's Arts Awards recipients include:
• Lifetime Achievement Award -- June Biber Freeman, Little Rock.
• Arts Community Development Award -- Peggy Kjelgaard, Eureka Springs.
• Arts in Education Award -- David Woolly, Alma.
• Corporate Sponsorship of the Arts Award -- Highlands Oncology Group, Fayetteville.
• Folklife Award -- Brockwell Gospel Music School, Brockwell.
• Patron Award -- Charlotte Hudspeth Gadberry, Little Rock.
• Judges Recognition Award -- Becky Thornton, Conway.Local on 11/20/2017