By Becky Harris
Roberta Coyne stood up in a meeting of 500 parents ("My knees were shaking," she says) some 20 years ago back in Texas, and said the addition of 30 more computers in another fancy computer lab would be a nice thing for the school.
"But shouldn't we have at least ONE art class? "
The school board allowed some parents, Roberta included, to serve as part-time art teachers that year, and when the test scores were published, it was determined that the students who had art in the classroom scored higher than the students who didn't.
Now that district, in the heart of NASA country down around Houston, has full-time art teachers in every school.
Roberta's knees still shake when she speaks up about the benefits of art in the classroom, but she's a believer and a problem solver.
Two years ago, she accepted the challenge of teaching art to school-age children at Conway Human Development Center.
"Even the most profoundly disabled can realize a sense of achievement when they create something that someone else admires. Art adds color and life to the drab world of an institution," she says.
While always interested in art, she didn't always practice.
She was a mother of three young boys in Colorado Springs when she told her husband she wanted to go to art school. A practical man, he didn't see how that would propel her in her chosen field of business, banking, and finance.
But one night, while rocking a sickly child, she gazed at a crazy quilt made by her great-great grandmother and was inspired to take $15 and buy materials to make jewelry, perhaps to sell to friends and family.
Within a year, her work was in three boutiques, and she had earned $5,000, enough to enroll in the Fine Arts Museum art school.
"It was hard work, standing for hours in figure drawing class, learning to look, to see, to know what pencil would produce what results. I became good at each exercise, for instance, being able to sketch the human body in five lines," she said.
Technique, precision, and detail have carried through in her work in watercolors and jewelry making.
"I've always planned everything," Roberta said, "but I may be entering a more patient time in my life, learning to paint in a completely different way."
She's taking lessons at White Wagon Farm near Maumelle to give herself a looser, freer approach to painting.
As she's been encouraged throughout her career - husband Jim is now her biggest fan - she's helped promote local artists and designers since arriving in Conway.
Her gallery, Works of the HeART, had frequent openings for some 20 artists with music and tea lights on the sidewalk at Caldwell and Parkway. Later, her shop Vintage to Vogue, was a gathering place for young designers who created "something different" from the classic old clothing and jewelry they found there.
"I loved the artists and my customers; some of us are friends still," she said. "Those (business-owning) experiences helped me to learn that one thing leads to another," Roberta said.
"It's not always easy for me to let life unfold, but I'm working on it. I'm not patient, but I want to be peaceful with that."
Roberta Coyne's jewelry and artwork can be seen at Salon Xclusive, 1205 Front St., Conway. White Wagon Farm is at 24627 Hwy 365 N, Maumelle.