Artist Spotlight: Alma Owen

Photos by Kim Carr

Standing the Test of Time

We met at the 63 Diner in Columbia, Missouri just north of town.  Old fashioned burgers, onion rings and milkshakes are a staple here. The diner is decorated with photos of Elvis, Lucy and Marilyn Monroe.  It takes you back to a time when 57 Chevys ruled and gas was 30 cents a gallon.  It was a great place to meet up with Alma Owen, one of the founding members of the Best of Missouri Hands which will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2015.

To say our chat was a bit nostalgic would be an understatement.  Growing up on a farm in Richmond, Missouri, Alma milked cows and helped with the crops.  With no indoor plumbing and three brothers, Alma’s father left the farm to work in a factory to pay for his childrens’ education.  At the College of the Ozarks, she earned a degree in Home Economics and went on to teach high school for a few years.  Later she worked to bring home a master’s and a doctorate’s degree in Family & Consumer Economics at the University of Missouri in Columbia.  Alma then found herself teaching on a higher level at the University of Vermont, Perdue University and later at Lincoln University.

Alma always saw her creative side being put to good use in helping others.  She put her energy into academic writing and research.  As an economist by trade, she was more than eager to work on a new project in the mid 1980’s.  The University of Missouri Extension, University of Missouri and Lincoln University saw a need to make the arts more available in rural areas and to help rural artists market their work.  The main purpose was to increase family income in rural areas where changes in agriculture and manufacturing had resulted in the loss of income opportunities.  Alma was all too familiar with this, having been raised on a farm where her family was unable to make a proper living from the land alone.  Alma was a part of that original team that came together to help form the Best of Missouri Hands.  She recalls that another original team member was an entrepreneur who had made his success with the invention of a disc washer to clean vinyl records.

When we talked about the beginnings of the Best of Missouri Hands and Alma’s involvement, you could tell there was a sense of pride.  Over the years, Alma had lost connection with the organization that she helped start so many years ago.  When attending the BOMH conference this year, she was amazed to see the organization was still standing and going strong.  She stated that she felt a sense of accomplishment and loved the beauty and grace in which the BOMH has evolved.  Being involved in the conference gave her an opportunity to reconnect, feel a sense of community and be motivated by fellow members who share a common thread.  Alma never thought that the guide sheets that she helped write on how to market one’s art, set prices and such, would stand the test of time.

Knowing that artists have a unique challenge because business skills don’t always go hand-in- hand with artistic talent, Alma was very pleased to see the number of artists at the conference dedicated to make it all work for them.  It wasn’t until about 2 years ago that Alma herself turned to creating and working with her hands.  Until then she had been satisfied with putting her creative talents into writing.  With a need to feel productive, Alma took up bead work.  She enjoys creating miniature boxes with lids using a peyote stitch.  Having also made numerous Christmas ornaments, Alma is setting her sights on incorporating spontaneous drawings into her bead work.  She hopes to do a series of buildings from the State Capitol to landmark buildings around the University of Missouri.

The hardest part about doing miniature work is often just starting a new thread.  Patience is a must and a steady hand is a necessity.  When I asked Alma what it was about bead work that attracted her to it, she stated that she just loves beads.  She loves the multitude of colors; she loves the feel of beads.  I asked her what her favorite piece was that she has created and she said whatever piece she happens to be working on at the time.  The little boxes are favored in as much as they are structured and have reason.  Her finer small boxes range in price from $150 to $300.  She has juried into miniature shows and currently has work at the Color and Light Gallery in Madrio, New Mexico, where she once lived and returns every year for a visit.  Due to the length of time it can take to create a piece, Alma is more apt to create something as a gift for a family member or dear friend.

In her spare time, Alma enjoys traveling, knitting and dreams of someday opening a shop named A Little Bit of Glass.  At some point, she would like to try plein air painting.  Another dream would be to help establish a Park & Paint event for her local tourism center.  She would love for the local kids and 4-H members to take photos of sites around the community that would make great plein Air locations.  She would then like to compile a book of these photos for visitors to review when looking for a spot to paint.  It was obvious that Alma still had the drive and passion to help others as well as a community.  By reconnecting with the BOMH, Alma hopes to meet other artists in her area.  She would love to utilize the arts to help develop tourism for the Old Trails Area which includes Jackson, Clay, Ray, Lafayette, Carroll, Cooper and Saline County.  Helping to develop the arts in her surrounding area is high on her agenda.

When I asked her what bit of knowledge or advice she would pass on to others, she simply stated, “You never get too old and never know enough that you can’t learn from other artists.”  This summer she plans on traveling to Maine for a workshop.  Like she said, you’re never too old and never know enough.

With a touch of excitement in her voice,  I could easily see and hear the pride Alma has in the Best of Missouri Hands and how it has stood the test of time.  I think it was easy to see how Alma herself has stood the test of time.  After 30 years, she is still working on making life easier and better for artists, which helps a community, thus driving tourism, which boosts the economy and the chain of life continues on.  All a little bit better because Alma Owens enjoys helping others succeed, while proving she can stand the test of time.

Learn more about the Old Trails Tourism division at:

Visit the Color Light Art’s gallery in Madrid, New Mexico where Alma’s work can be found.

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