Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Wander into Arthur Sekula's 421 S. Main St. art gallery, and any number of pieces of work produced by the San Antonio native catch your eye.
Like the bust of a pony-tailed girl located in the center of the gallery, sculpted one summer in Santa Fe at a workshop led by a nationally known artist. Toward the back of the room, near the door that leads into his studio, is a rack with tomato-themed pieces, a nod to the to the city's upcoming Tomato Festival.
And then there is the quartet of winged frogs created more than two decades ago as part of a college art project.
The frogs – all named King Leo – provide a splash of color and whimsy more in line with Fiesta celebrations held in his hometown than the landscapes and architectural pieces Sekula is known for doing.
“I wrote a book, something I had to do for a secondary art project in college, and it was called ‘King Leo and the Kingdom of Rutebega’ – these are my Leo guys, Leo 1, 2, 3 and 4,” he said, handling the pieces. “I thought, a winged frog … it just popped in my head.
“To be honest with you, I just like to make things,” he said. “I just like doing things that are interesting to me.”
And now that Sekula is retired from teaching, “I can devote all my time to painting.”
With the opening of A. Sekula Fine Art Gallery, he's hoping local residents will not only find his work as interesting, but be inspired to tap into their own creative side.
“A man one time said – and it was the best compliment anyone could have given me – ‘Your work shows that you really enjoy painting,'” he said, describing how he hopes others discover this love, too, through lessons he will be offering at his studio.
For now, instruction will focus on painting with watercolors, drawing and block printing, but “we can do whatever we want,” he said. “And the lessons are going to be inexpensive – if you want to do just one, it'll be only $40.”
His own journey into the world of art began at San Antonio College, where “at that time, I was trying for commercial art (degree), but that wasn’t quite my thing – I was doing a lot of other things, more the fine arts,” Sekula said.
After moving to East Texas, he began working full-time at Rusk State Hospital while attending Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. “I went off and on, and graduated in 1989 with a bachelor of fine arts,” he said.
At the facility – “back then it was called 'maximum security'” – Sekula led “arts and crafts types of things” with inmates for several years before applying for a teaching position with Jacksonville ISD.
“I applied at the high school, but they needed someone at the junior high at that time, so I did that” several years before being transferred to the Nichols Intermediate campus, he recalled.
He served as a local art teacher for 10 years before taking a teaching position with the Rusk school district, leading to a seven-year stint in Rusk.
Teaching dovetailed nicely into his work as an artist: When school was out for the summer, Sekula hit the road to show his work at art fairs and in galleries.
“I told my wife, ‘You know, I’m gonna try to do a show in every state (on the mainland),’ and I’m working towards that,” he smiled.
He met Susan while first working in Rusk, and said the Westwood ISD primary school music teacher “has been my support, my best partner ever” in pursuing his goals as an artist.
In fact, Susan is the one who encouraged him to realize his dream of owning a gallery.
Several years ago, while at a July art show in Buda, “she turns at me, looks at my work and says, ‘you should be in a gallery. Your work should be in a gallery,'” Sekula recalled. “And I say, ‘yeah,’ and I’m thinking to myself, ‘oh, my gosh ... I think you’re right.’”
While launching the art gallery has not been without its challenges or stresses – contractor delays, slow days when maybe one person visits the shop – Sekula feels Jacksonville is the perfect place to embrace this type of endeavor, and hopes that the city grows into a go-to place for art.
“Look at these towns that are smaller than Jacksonville, like Edom and Ben Wheeler – if you talk to (art shop owners) there, they'll say that the people who come see them are from Dallas, from out of town – they’re drawing people in from other areas, and I hope that runs true for me, too,” he said.
For now, though, Sekula wants people to know that “art” isn't some over-priced and out-of-reach object they can only dream about; art is meant to be enjoyed – and owned – by all.
“When you see the word, ‘gallery,’ you probably (imagine) big old dollar signs in your head, but I like to think that mine is affordable,” he said. “Because art should be affordable for anyone to collect it, for anyone who wants to collect it.”