It is a common story: Small-town students often fall through the cracks because there are few resources that teach the arts or foster creativity. Two artists from one Arkansas community separated by generations are changing the story.


Geneva Richerson, who goes by Neva, is a 16-year-old homeschool student from Bismarck. After this summer, she will be in 11th grade, and she wants to pursue an art degree. She is seeking a scholarship to fund her studies. Thanks to an art course led by Ovita Goolsby, she will be one step closer to making her dream of creating art come true.


“I understand because I went to Bismarck High School from about the 10th grade on,” said Goolsby, who is retired. “There was no art. I was just starving for something artistic. I understand where she’s coming from, and I really want to help her when I can.”

A local art course has allowed Geneva Richerson, 16, to further her artistic talent.

Goolsby made a living doing portraits and even painted an official portrait for former Gov. Mike Beebe. She said it was not her dream career, but she fell in love with her clients and with pleasing people with her talents, which she said is a “rarity in the art world.”


Neva has been passionate about creating art since she was 7 years old. Last fall, she took a live-model oil-painting class taught by Goolsby at National Park College in Hot Springs as part of the continuing education program. This year, she started taking a design class at Goolsby’s home. She plans to sign up for Goolsby’s next class at NPC in the fall.


“I learned a lot about how to add colors appropriately,” Neva said. “She’s an amazing teacher really — really sweet — and she’s just helped me a lot.”


Before painting under the tutelage of Goolsby, Neva mostly used acrylics and watercolor. She said she has been doing more oil painting now, finding it a lot easier than before. She has also seen an improvement in her overall painting techniques.


Her primary medium is paint, but she also enjoys working in pencil and markers. Her favorite subject to paint is pets.

Neva started getting attention for her art when her mother, Janae Richerson, posted several works on her Facebook page. Neva’s name spread through word of mouth, and she started getting requests for commissions. She has also put some of her pieces up for sale at local flea markets and in a booth at Amity Trade Days. Neva now has a Facebook page of her own to showcase her work called NRcraftz.


“[Neva] has just grown over the years and has gotten to where she’s getting really busy,” Richerson said, adding that the homeschool environment helped Neva develop her skills and gave her the freedom to pursue her passions.


“Ever since she was little, I just let her mainly be interest-led,” Richerson said. “She has just been drawing and painting from such an early age, and I believe that being home and homeschooled has fostered that a lot. I don’t think she would have devoted as much time to it if she had been in public school. She wouldn’t have had time. She’s really been able to hone in on her talents.”


Neva said she is inspired by her surroundings in Bismarck and is starting to do more landscapes. She is still looking to develop a signature style of her own.


“I don’t add anything, I guess, special to them,” Neva said.


Neva and her family have started researching art schools, hoping to map out a path for her future career.


“What I am doing with Neva is to try and get together a really decent portfolio so she can go to an art school or she can go to a college around Arkansas that has a good art department and to also be qualified for a scholarship,” Goolsby said.


Goolsby teaches one class each fall at National Park College, mostly for seniors and retirees in Hot Springs and Hot Springs Village. Her students are almost always former professionals in other fields who have always wanted to paint. She teaches all levels exactly the way she learned in art school in New York using live models and very strict rules about palette and colors. Students only do three paintings in 10 weeks, coming back to the same pose three times.


She said was at first concerned that the 16-year-old homeschooler may be out of her league, not having gone through high school art class yet. Goolsby was willing to give it a try, nonetheless, saying, “If she can keep up, it’ll be fine.”


“She walked in, and I was simply knocked out with her talents,” Goolsby said. “I mean, I had never seen anyone 16 that could draw like this. She just needs professional instruction.”


Goolsby said the first painting used only oil on an 18-by-24-inch canvas and required students to use a tone palette to get the colors right. Neva did a “very nice little painting of the whole figure right inside the middle of it,” Goolsby said. “I was very impressed she could do that small.”


With Goolsby’s encouragement, Neva painted the next piece a little larger.

“The last one, I said, ‘All right, I want you to break out of this tiny stuff, and I want a good life-sized head, shoulders, and I want the details,’” Goolsby said. “She knocked it out of the park. I could not believe she had learned that much in 10 weeks.”


Goolsby said because of Neva, she started a design class during the summer at her home for several students from the adult education class. The class studies shape, line, texture and all the basics that an art student can expect from a design I course. The weekly class has attracted many older students in the retirement community.


Even Richerson, a stay-at-home mom, has taken the opportunity to learn about art, never having had the chance to study it when she was younger. Goolsby said Neva’s talent is inherited and that Richerson is catching up on her daughter’s 10-year head start.


Giving Neva the tools she needs to take her passion to the next level has been a labor of love for the young protege’s instructor.


“I think she knows she’s talented, and she’s doing commissions right now, but it’s only a fraction of what she can do with her talent,” said Goolsby. “I’m trying to round it out. As an artist, as a creative person all my life, I simply know that she’s not going to be happy unless she does art, finds some place for it, in her life.”


Neva still has a lot to learn, Goolsby said, and one teacher can only impart so much wisdom. To truly reach her potential, she added, Neva needs more teachers and a proper art program.


“I’m trying to get her in a position where she gets to choose what she does in art,” Goolsby said.


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