It’s not uncommon to walk by the Ellen Hobgood Gallery and see her painting in the window, or even out on the sidewalk.
Photography by Janet Warlick
Kicking off her shoes, Heber Springs artist and gallery owner, Ellen Hobgood routinely plants her bare feet firmly on the floor. Hobgood said this keeps her grounded, and the magic she creates through her Santa Claus paintings is reflected in her voice as she describes her love of art.
It’s not uncommon to walk by the Ellen Hobgood Gallery at 101 S. Third Street in Heber Springs and see her painting in the window, or even out on the sidewalk. More times than not, she will be barefoot.
Hobgood knew at a young age that she had a talent for art, and she keeps the mystery of Christmas alive through her Santa Claus paintings, for which she is most well-known.
“When I was 5, I explained Bible stories to my mother in drawings,” she said. “When I was 14 or 15, I took art lessons from Glynda Turley, and my mom sold my paintings to pay for my art supplies and classes.” She said her drawings sold for $5 each.
“It makes you feel good when you see your artwork sell,” she continued.
Hobgood is a 1985 graduate of Heber Springs High School and worked for Turley, her former art teacher and a local artist, for more than 11 years after graduation. This is where she learned about framing, matting and the art trade.
After learning from Turley, Hobgood went out on her own and painted more than 200 murals in homes and businesses across Arkansas.
Hobgood’s Santa Claus paintings are made into Christmas cards and ornaments and sold in her gallery. The Santa images she creates are also used on the tins for Lambrecht Gourmet at Christmastime. In 2014, the Heber Springs-based candy company used the third in a series of Old World Santas that Hobgood painted specially for its southern pecan toffee.
Hobgood said she began painting Santas in 2002, and when she was at Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) with her son, she noticed a Barry Thomas exhibit at the hospital and inquired about having her own work hung on the walls of the hospital.
“I contacted the Ladies Auxiliary [at ACH], and a painting I did for a card was donated to the hospital,” Hobgood said. “I’ve made my own card every year since.”
Cards can be ordered online by the package, and they, as well as Christmas ornaments, can be purchased individually at the gallery. Hobgood said she signs everything she creates.
“I am so proud of Ellen and her success,” Turley, Hobgood’s mentor, said. “I recognized her talent years ago when she was a young student of mine. Her Santa paintings are unique and wonderful …”
Hobgood also features other artists’ work in her gallery, and she teaches painting. She said fellow artist Debby Hinson helps her keep things in check by volunteering at the gallery.
“Debby drives all the way from Little Rock once a week. She has been a godsent and an amazing person to me,” Hobgood said. “She’s my artist, assistant and a visionary who has been such a huge help to me in the past three years.”
Hobgood said Hinson also helps her hang art in the gallery, brings in art supplies from Little Rock, frames art and helps keep her on track.
“She assists me in all the paint parties I teach,” Hobgood added. “Any of the functions I go to, she drives me there and sets me up — if I’m there to paint. She’s been such an amazing help to me.”
Hobgood has a year-round exhibit at the Red Door Gallery at 3715 JFK Blvd. in North Little Rock and carries the spirit of giving through the holidays by donating work to charities, such as the American Heart Association, Centers for Youth and Families, and ACH.
She encourages everyone to shop locally and believes buying art by local artists is magical. “Keep the magic alive by enjoying art,” she said. “When you buy a piece of art, it is a memory.”