Among the many sites of curiosity in the framework of Conway are Gene Hatfield’s lush holdings in his home at Donaghey and Simms Streets.
The yard at the domicile of the noted artist is crammed with memorabilia of art that is brimming over with intricate remnants and relicts. All this makes for delicious sights in a curious place of abode.
Hatfield’s yard is a tangled maze of twisted metal, old furniture, car parts and so much more, some call it ‘junk. Yet his place attracts students, visitors and passers-by daily, all intrigued by the collection.
Over the years, Hatfield has been criticized for holdings on his place which he labels art. Those with lesser appreciation contend otherwise. In fact, he has been the object of some derision and even lawsuits by those who see his holdings as bad art, if art at all.
While he at times has suffered the slings and arrows of scorn, he hs been able to retreat from controversy and stand his ground.
There is no gainsaying that Hatfield may be most recognized for the plethora of unusual sculpture that fills his yard. All this has been a lightening rod for controversy and lawsuits. Yet in 2002, a legal ruling in his favor established the legitimacy of his art.
An artist of Hatfield’s brilliance does not always communicate with mainstream society. He therefore has been carried by the attribute called "art spirit" performed by one who has the courage to be different.
Unquestionably, he is one of the state’s most prolific artists with paintings and sculptures numbering into the thousands.
His output speaks for itself. His works of art, particularly magnificent watercolors, are displayed in many venues here and abroad.
There are those who consider him to be a Renaissance Man who has worked at nearly every kind of artistic endeavor - acting, writing, painting, sculpting, singing and dancing.
It was no surprise, then, that he was honored with the award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts by Gov. Mike Beebe.
In 2003, he was hailed in the "Men and Women of Distinction" competition by the Arkansas Educational Television Network’s prestigious program.
Asked if he would ever consider the possibility of divesting his holdings, he shrugged and said, "If I do, it will be one heck of a yard sale." No question, given the size and variety of goods in his yard. It would be a yard sale to end all yard sales.
It is a delight conversing with the artist. So it was hard to tell if Hatfield was joking when he suggested that some of his art pieces could be stationed in the various roundabouts in the city.
But he is true to his values when he says that castoff objects that have been discarded by society are considered valueless. "They are not," he asserts.
Today, Hatfield is in the state of semi-retirement, working on projects dear to his heart, visiting with UCA art students who seem enthralled with his possessions and with the public that seemingly enjoys visiting unusual places. He also is in the throes of writing his autobiography.
He lives in the shadow of UCA, where he does so much more than saving objects from lives in landfills. His love of painting has continued unabated. The influence of Monet is seen in his landscapes, and he produces fine pieces of sculpture. His watercolors are handsome productions of emotional essence. Many are to be seen festooned on the walls of many buildings at UCA and in private homes..
It is said that Hatfield’s art is influenced by everything, and his world is one which constantly changes.
When Hatfield enrolled at UCA in 1942, he majored in English with emphasis in speech-not art. He went on to win degrees from the University of Northern Colorado. UCA and European sites of learning. At one point in time He attended art school at Fontainebleau in France
The next year he became a professor in UCA’s art department. "I spent my entire career at UCA where I had freedom to do all the crazy art things I did." he said. He taught art and speech, specializing in stage design.
He retired in 1985.
One item of note involves his love of the theater. In 1947 he toured the country performing in a Shakespeare tour performing "Romeo and Juliet" and "Macbeth".
It has been said by many that if one must capture the essence of Gene Hatfield try the word "unpredictable". Everything he has accomplished in the arts seems to be at odds with conformity. He simply does things to suit himself. One critic claims that his work is influenced by everything in a world that changes constantly.
This writer recalls that Hatfield told him that he found plunder at the most unexpected times and places. And he wouldn’t have found them if he wasn’t looking for a special item for a special unfinished piece.
"Here I find exactly what I want along with other goodies, or an excellent part for another piece I’d forgotten I needed. It’s as if some outside force leads me to the right place."
Hatfield believes his creativity comes from a wound he suffered in World War II.
"When I recovered from a gunshot in the eye, I thought I would lose my sight. When I recovered, I had a lot of impetus to do things in abundance."
He certainly has.