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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Penny Hite Fulfills Dream to be an Artist

Penny Hite holds a landscape — crayon on canvas — that she created when she was about six years old. (Photo by Bob Cassell)
Penny Hite holds a landscape — crayon on canvas — that she created when she was about six years old. (Photo by Bob Cassell)

Arts Depot Resident Artist Profile

By Helen Price | Arts Depot | April 19, 2010

*** Reprinted by permission from The Arts Depot spring newsletter, April 2010.

ABINGDON, VA — For some fortunate artists, painting was as much a part of growing up as skinned knees, playing in the rain, eating cookies, or going to school.

Penny Hite, who today spends many happy hours painting in Studio Three of the Arts Depot, is just such a painter. The names of familiar Abingdon artists, such as Audrey Nunn, Cecilia Walker, Tedd Blevins, George Chavatel, and Landon Woody were household words during Penny's young years.

"These people were my mentors, and they perpetuated my desire to be artistic," Penny recalls.

"I've always loved painting," she continues. "In fact, I still have my very first canvas. It's a landscape — crayon on canvas — and it features all four seasons, all on one canvas. I painted it when I was six or seven years old," she adds. "And I always signed my whole name — Penny Arrington — but the "Ns' were always backwards."

While she always loved to draw and paint, Penny's life did not begin and end with artistic endeavors. She grew up on a farm on the edge of Abingdon in a family that included one sister and no brothers. There was always plenty of work to be done on the farm, and Penny and her sister did their share of milking cows, feeding and cleaning up after farm animals, and sharing the load of running a working farm. There wasn't a lot of time or money to buy supplies, daydream, and paint. But the heart of an artist always yearns to create, and painting was woven into Penny's life as surely as the cool Southwest Virginia mountain air she breathed.

It seems artwork and creativity surrounded Penny as a child. Her grandmother was an artist, working with fabrics, so she grew up seeing artistic creations within her own family. Audrey Nunn, a well-known artist at Abingdon's Cave House, used to baby-sit Penny and always gave her painting supplies to play with when Penny was in her care.

"Later, I had six or seven lessons with Audrey, and then with Cecilia Walker, who was the first librarian at Abingdon's Washington County Library," Penny remembers. "She was also an artist and a friend of our family. She always gave me paper and paints when I was a child."

In elementary school, Penny took art classes and, when she was 12 or 13 years old, she took classes with Tedd Blevins. "He was the first to recognize that I might have some talent, and he really encouraged me," says Penny.

But she did not get the same encouragement from her parents who, wanting to prepare their children for the future, believed that they needed to develop marketable skills that could support them as grown-ups. However, to a strong-minded young Penny, that kind of thinking only made her more determined to pursue art at every opportunity.

"As a farm child, it was a struggle to meet my potential," Penny explains. She just kept on painting, taking classes whenever and wherever she could, and enjoying it more and more.

As time passed, and Penny grew through her teen years, life started getting in the way of her artistic ambitions. She married young, dropped out of high school, and at age 17, gave birth to a son. She soon realized that education was as necessary as art to a successful future. She earned her GED and went on to college at Emory & Henry, double-majoring in Education and Sociology after just three years.

She and her four-year-old son then moved to Roanoke where she was employed as a first- and second-grade teacher, and also taught remedial reading classes. After a while, needing more money to raise her son, she went into commercial printing sales. She saved her money and went back to school, earning a degree in Interior Design from Randolph Tech in North Carolina. "It was very difficult, but I loved it," Penny recalls. "There were 85 students in my class and, after 2-1/2 years, only 24 of us finished."

Penny eventually returned to Abingdon, married again, and finally began to achieve her dream to become an artist, as well as teaching others to paint. Working mostly in pastels and watercolors, she taught various levels of painting to both children and adults in the Tri-Cities area. And best of all, she now had time to paint for herself. She says her life has proved that, "No matter where you are, or what you have to do, if you have the desire to create, you will create."

Over the years, Penny has tried her hand at a broad range of mediums, including watercolors, pastels, and finally oils. She says, for now, she most enjoys pastels. Her favorite subjects to paint are "architectural things. I had architectural drafting when I was working on my interior design degree, and I have always loved it."

A walk through Penny's studio reveals that about half of her displayed works are the outsides of buildings and street scenes from her travels overseas.

Penny has enjoyed several trips to paint in Europe, traveling with Janice Beck, an award-winning watercolorist and long-time exhibitor at the Virginia Highlands Festival. Beck organizes and accompanies groups of artists to Europe where they spend two weeks in mostly rural areas of the countries visited. "I've been to France twice, villages near Rome in Italy, and also in Greece and Spain," Penny enumerates. Many of her paintings are large pastels or watercolors, featuring sights and scenes of these areas.

She says her own personal favorite work is a watercolor that features a portion of the sanatorium where Van Gogh resided in St. Rémy, France. The painting focuses on the cloister area of the building, with several tall columns along the perimeter of the building. "I think it "reads' well," she explains. "You know exactly what you're seeing and I think the perspective is good."

About five years ago, Penny agreed to "studio sit" for the late Janet Rasnick at the Arts Depot. After that, Helen Morgan and Nancy Johnson, both resident artists at the Arts Depot, asked her to fill in for them. She loved it and, when space became available, she applied to become a resident artist herself, submitting a portfolio of her work. She was accepted and now enjoys having a studio of her own.

"I love it because I am in association with like kind," Penny describes. "Being here promotes creativity and also gives me the opportunity to show and sell my work."

When she looks toward the future, Penny says, "As an artist, I want to advance my skill and become more positive about myself. It takes a lot of focus and persistence to become an artist," she reflects. "You have to get inside your own emotional head and inspire yourself. Nobody can do that for you. Only you can do that."

A! ExtraTopics: Art