Hendrix Magazine

Local Gal

Renee Williams '87 frames space for art lovers in Little Rock

Local food fans find value in knowing the farmer who grows the food they eat. The same applies to art.

For 17 years, Renee Williams '87 has catered to people who want to know the artist whose work they buy.

Williams, who owns Gallery 26 on Kavanaugh in Little Rock's Hillcrest neighborhood, has built a business featuring original artwork, jewelry, and pottery by Arkansas artists – as well as offering custom framing.

"There are so many really good artists in the state, which is great," she said.

Gallery 26 represents 70 local artists and has a two- to three-year waiting list for its series of exhibitions held every other month.

Locally, Williams has seen a big increase in art sales.

"Strangely, during a recession, there's been a big resurgence in handmade and meaningful purchases," she said. "People want something with love, soul and spirit in it."

Williams grew up in St. Louis, Mo., until her family moved to Dover, Ark., where she finished high school. She knew of Hendrix through her grandmother, who lived across the street from campus, and grandfather Dennis Williams '30, who attended Hendrix. When her sister Dee Williams '83 was a student, she attended plays and lectures by guest speakers on campus.

"I had a great experience," said Williams. "You're not just a number, and you end up with mentors and incredible friends."

Williams was inspired by Hendrix faculty members, including art professor Bill Hawes, the late philosophy professor Dr. Francis Christie, and religion professor Dr. Jay McDaniel.

"They were a big influence on me ... You could go and talk to them, not just about class but life," she said. "That was really important to me."

As a student, Williams worked with Potpourri, the student literary magazine, and hosted a radio show on KHDX.

She was also part of the second group of students to study for a term at the University of London's Birkbeck College.

"That kind of experience just opens up your whole world and makes travel seem so possible," said Williams, who has returned to Europe several times since her first study abroad experience. "After Birkbeck, it just seemed so doable."

After college, she worked framing fine art at a frame shop in Little Rock for six years. When the owner closed the shop, Williams saw an opportunity. With a U.S. Small Business Administration loan, she opened her own frame shop and added a gallery.

As a business owner, she made friends with local artists and mailed invitations to art shows held in artists' homes, a precursor to the events she now hosts.

"I got a good start with that and it all kind of started to gel," she said.

In 2005, she moved the shop and gallery to its current location, two doors down from where she was for 10 years.

Gallery 26 offers Arkansas artwork in a variety of styles and prices from $35 to $3,500 and hosts about 18 art events a year. Though Williams is wired on Facebook and sends email notices about events, customers still enjoy receiving invitations to exhibits by mail, she said.

With her skills in framing, she can build installations for "bizarre things," such as an all plastics show, including plastic clothing, hosted by Gallery 26.

"It's great because we can be adventurous and not worry as much," she said.

Williams "knew from the beginning" she would be an art major at Hendrix, and she continues to be active as an artist.

"Most gallery owners are artists," she said. "And we have a natural inclination to want to bring people together."

She recently exhibited her work in acrylic, which she describes as "magical realism with a lot of symbolism," at the Butler Center Galleries of the Arkansas Studies Institute.

Williams is one of several Hendrix alumni active in the art world, including many in the Little Rock area.

"There are quite a few of us, which is great," she said, naming several Hendrix graduates who own other galleries or work in art in another capacity.

"We all had really good art professors who were very encouraging that we could actually make a living doing something we love," she said. "My whole life has changed because of those four years."