John Bell, Jr.
My parents came from coal miners and farmers in eastern
Oklahoma, but moved to Fort Smith to start a new life.
I was born here along with my two sisters and a brother.
All of our memories and influences are of eastern Oklahoma
and western Arkansas which is reflected in my art. Born
in 1937 I can still remember chugging T-models, the
ice man, anxiety about the war, radio plays, back yard
clothes lines with sheets flowing in the breeze, and
those small things that form the foundation for your
I met my wife, Maxine, in grade school. We married
years later while I was studying for my bachelors at
the U of A. I supplemented our income by drawing charcoal
portraits of students in the Union. I graduated in 1965
and our daughter, Lisa, was born that same year. It
suddenly became more important to find work than to
study for a master's degree.
I found it important to acquire a variety of skills
in the arts in order to survive. In the beginning during
the hard times, doing charcoal portraits quickly and
efficiently helped to fill in the gaps between jobs.
There were lots of gaps! You had to be quick to make
any money at the local fairs, and even though it was
something I didn't like to do I had gained a reputation
large enough that J C Penney hired me to be a part of
the grand opening of their newly remodeled children's
department in Fort Smith and in Fayetteville. The customers
would receive a free portrait after a minimum purchase
of children's clothing. They declared the promotion
a success when the kids kept coming and coming! The genuine excitement of the kids in having their portrait done was rewarding, but, not seriously challenging. I was challenged, however, while doing a demonstration of charcoal drawing in Washington D.C. on "Freedom Square". Maria Schriver, who was a young reporter for a national network, allowed me to sketch her as we talked about the festival on camera. I felt the pressure to get it right. One other unique assignment was to do the portrait of country music singer, Roy Acuff, on the back of a hand crafted fiddle to be presented to him on stage during a "Grand Old Opry". It has since become a part of the display in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Credits include: BA Degree as an art major, member of a special committee of the National Endowment for the Arts, several works featured during a show at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, one man show at: UA Fayetteville, UA Fort Smith, Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Capitol Hilton in Washington, D.C., Governor's Mansion in Lincoln, Nebraska. Gallery shows in Little Rock, Rogers, Fort Smith, Van Buren, etc.
I don't enter competitions because I believe that art is an extension of the individual and cannot be judged by some standard.
Now I enjoy the freedom of freelance painting and an occasional commission. Many of the works you see here are in private collections around the country. All are available in signed and numbered prints on fine art paper or, if you prefer, on canvas.
Thank you for looking.
Patrons of the arts viewing the works
of John Bell, Jr. during the dedication ceremony of
"Sally Borham Gallery to honor John Bell"
at the University of Arkansas Fort Smith.