Artist-Turned-Author Follows Her Muse
Hankins with a sculpture of Rhonelle Dubois
photography by Janet Warlick
Little Rock artist Jane Hankins has just finished her latest creative project — not a painting or sculpture, for which she is best known, but her first full-length book being released next month.
Madge’s Mobile Home Park: Volume 1 of the Peavine Chronicles follows the lives of a dozen characters from the fictional town of Peavine in southern Arkansas.
The 254-page book, published by Parkhurst Brothers, Inc., will be released May 1 and sold locally and electronically.
The book is the first for the Jonesboro native, whose mainstay as a visual artist has been acrylic paintings, drawings and figurative sculptures in porcelain and stoneware. But fans of Hankins’ work will like that her book’s characters are just as quirky as Hankins’ other creative works.
The characters were inspired by a series of sculptures Hankins created called the Mavens of Madge’s Mobile Home Park. Several sketches of characters and scenes are included in the book.
Hankins created the People of Peavine for more than a decade. In 2000, she had a one-woman sculpture show of characters inspired by homemade road signs she saw on a car trips between Little Rock and New Orleans. A “Curl Up and Dye” sign led to the creation of Shirleen Naither, the beautician in Peavine. For each sculpture, she also made up a story about the character and the connection to Peavine.
As she added characters, her collection of short stories grew.
“One form of art feeds another in my creative world,” Hankins said. “I listen to music and see an image which tells a story, and it becomes a painting. I see a play or read a book, and I am compelled to create a sculpture of how I see a character. All my visual artwork is a form of storytelling, so it’s not that much of a stretch for my sculpture to tell me so much of a story that I began to write it down.”
When she had the first seven chapters completed, she did a reader’s theater production at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre in Little Rock. Her husband, Randy (also known as KTHV’s Craig O’Neill) and her son and daughter joined her in three sold-out performances. “Hearing the voices of my characters and seeing the positive reactions of the audience gave me the confidence to keep writing,” Hankins recalled.
The book’s main character — and Hankins’ muse — is Loretta “Doll” Dumas, the widow of the richest man in town; she’s moved from her mansion to a lavender doublewide and befriends the trailer park residents. There’s Doll’s psychic friend, Rhonelle Dubois; Doll’s faithful nurse and caregiver Christabelle Tingleberry; Kristy and Misty, the Party Girls, and plenty other quirky characters.
“There’s a theme of redemption to it, and a lot of humor,” Hankins said.
Anyone who knows Hankins knows she fancies herself a “serious artist who doesn’t take herself too seriously,” though she has had much success with her mix of fun and fantasy.
She has had numerous exhibitions and annual shows and was one of 10 Arkansas women artists chosen to exhibit in the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Her work is carried throughout central Arkansas, including in the Arkansas Arts Center Museum Shop, the Clinton Presidential Library Museum Store and Red Door Gallery in North Little Rock. Dillard’s Department stores commissioned a hand-blown glass ornament company to reproduce Hankins’ Santa and Christmas paintings for the 2011 holiday season.
For the sculpture/painter-turned novelist, the book has been the proverbial “red-headed stepchild of my creative endeavors.”
“I’ve been working on it for eight years,” she said. “The second one is not going to take that long, believe you me.” She’s already written four chapters of the sequel and plans to continue the Peavine Chronicles.
“I’ve got tons of books left in me … as long as I can sit down and write them,” she said.
With plans for several book signings in the works, Hankins will be busy in the near future. She’s also partnering to raise funds for some of her favorite organizations. The first will be May 12 at the Pine Bluff Country Club and will benefit the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Tickets include lunch and an autographed copy of her novel.
Hankins also plans to partner with the Argenta Community Theater in North Little Rock to benefit THEA Foundation, which promotes involvement in the arts throughout Arkansas, and to appear at an event at the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock to benefit Women and Children First. For more information about Hankins, log onto janefhankins.com.
Madge’s Mobile Home Park: Volume 1 of the Peavine Chronicles, $19.95. Available May 1 at Barnes & Noble; Wordsworth; Clinton Presidential Library Museum Store; Arkansas Arts Center Museum Shop; Cynthia East Fabrics; or online at amazon.com. For more information, log onto janefhankins.com.