Walk into Valdora Ward's bungalow on Natelle Avenue in Brooksville and you quickly realize that art occupies a special place in her heart. • The evidence is everywhere. Nearly every solid surface serves as a canvas for Ward's talented hands. Paintings of spiraling flowered vines snake along the ceilings in every room. Big white magnolia flowers cover twin lamp shades that sit on each side of the living room sofa. Even the kitchen table, decorated with a spray of green and pink blossoms, has gotten Ward's artistic treatment.
For Ward, 63, the feel of an artist's brush in her hand, the simple act of stroking paint on an object, allows her not only to bring beauty into the world, but also provides the opportunity to offer up a piece of her soul.
"I don't know where the inspiration comes from most of the time," Ward said as she surveyed some of her latest creations in her home studio. "There's a muse inside me, and it just starts speaking."
Which might explain why Ward has never been afraid to try techniques that many artists would shy away from, such as painting on wild turkey and peacock feathers, cypress knees, rocks and chunks of glass.
Affable and quick-witted, Ward jokes that having never taken formal art lessons has allowed her to break all kinds of rules.
"I'm a trial-and-error kind of painter," she quips. "If I screw something up, I toss it and no one will ever know how bad it was."
Those who venture into Hernando County's more art-friendly places have likely seen the wonder in Ward's work. The Rising Sun Cafe in downtown Brooksville, where she is part of a four-artist exhibit, has carried her unique flower-decorated umbrellas for a couple of years. She also has been a frequent exhibitor at Easy Street Home Decor in Brooksville, the Brooksville City Hall Art Gallery and the Cortez Community Bank building in Brooksville.
Born in Michigan, Ward's family moved to northern Pasco County when she was 6. Always a doodler, she was forever drawing pictures of horses and animals. But her first real foray as an artist didn't come until after she graduated from Hernando High School, when she was hired to create a mural for a lounge in Dade City.
"I honestly didn't know what I was doing, but I kept working on it until it looked pretty good," Ward recalled. "It turned out pretty nice."
Ward, whose husband is Brooksville fire Lt. Gerald Ward, soon found her talents as a mural artist in demand. Her scrapbook is filled with holiday scenes she painted on Brooksville store windows and cartoon murals rendered on the walls of her son's elementary school.
But as she got older, her focus on art changed.
"I wanted to work on smaller, more detailed things," she said. "I wanted to explore my imagination more."
Ward's trial-and-error process led her first to water-based acrylic paints, which she learned to blend in minute portions to create deep hues. As it turned out, the paints were perfect to apply to all kinds of surfaces, including driftwood, rocks and, of course, feathers, a medium for which Ward quickly became noted.
Just as her artistic pursuits began to heat up, Ward suffered a major blow to her health. One morning in 2001, she woke up feeling intense numbness and pressure on the left side of her face. Stymied by the symptoms, her doctor referred her to a specialist in Gainesville, who diagnosed her condition as vasculitis, complicated by the onset of lupus, an autoimmune disorder.
Ward spent the next year fighting the disease, which left her 90 percent deaf in one ear and still affects her equilibrium. Art became more than just an indulgence; it became her therapy.
"I was just aching for something constructive to do," she said.
So began a prolific creative period that continues today. Recently, the artist began experimenting with a multimedia form that involves burning images into raw basswood and then painting them with water-based paints. The result is a three-dimensional image that resembles wood block relief.
Ward's concentration on unusual methods has created a challenge when it comes to seeking recognition as an artist. Since her paintings are not presented on traditional canvas, they are often categorized by art show organizers as crafts. But that term doesn't do justice to her work, she says.
"Because I choose to paint on something other than canvas, I should get penalized?" she argued. "It's not right."
Ward, who normally shuns juried shows, intends to enter her work at this year's Spring Hill Art Club's Fall Harvest of Art. She wants to see for herself, if nothing else, how she ranks with serious artists.
Said Ward with a laugh: "Being thought of as serious wouldn't change the way I practice my art. I have way too much fun creating it."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.