UCA Downtown to host exhibit featuring UCA retiree Sally Roden

When Sally Roden retired from the University of Central Arkansas after 42 years as an educator and administrator, she planned to travel often, read a lot and sleep in. What she didn’t plan was to discover a calling as an artist.

That discovery, and her resulting artwork, will be celebrated by UCA’s Division of Outreach and Community Engagement when they host an artist reception for Roden. The event will take place on Friday, Sept. 9 at 4:30 p.m. and will be held at UCA Downtown, the university’s multi-use event space used for community education classes, events and galleries. The program will include a welcome from UCA president Houston Davis.

Sally RodenAdditionally, Roden’s work will be exhibited at UCA Downtown (1105 West Oak Street in Conway) on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from noon until 5 p.m. from August 31 until September 23. 

Roden’s flourishing pursuit of art began – quite unexpectedly – in her kitchen. She was sitting at the counter, near a pencil and piece of paper, when she began to sketch her dog.

“It started looking like him,” Roden said. “I didn’t know I could do that! Everyone was surprised when they saw the sketch, including me.”

For her birthday that year, Roden received month’s worth of art lessons at the now-closed Art on the Green gallery. Bonnie McKay, an award-winning artist based in Conway, was her teacher. 

Roden called ahead and found out she should bring oil paints, brushes and a photo she liked. She picked a picture of a hummingbird fluttering among pink azaleas. 

“I put it all in a sack and headed to the gallery,” Roden said. “It felt like the first day of school!”

Armed with her paints, brushes and the photograph, Roden perched in front of her white canvas. Step by step – and with McKay’s guidance – Rodan began filling in the canvas, starting with the green background. 

“Then we put in some pinks and finally the hummingbird. After that class, I discovered I could paint! I went back the next week with a new picture and again the week after that.”

Roden says painting, for her, is all about discovery. She looks at landscapes, clouds, waterfalls and flowers and challenges herself to replicate the images. 

“It has also given me a new appreciation of beauty and colors. You see green, for example, but until you’re trying to paint a leaf, you don’t realize how many shades of green are there. I’ve learned to look at things in a different light. There is an adventure in painting.” 

Roden’s academic adventure began in 1969 at UCA, where she served as an instructor in speech and theatre arts. In the mid 1990s, she initiated the Residential College Program. She would go on to hold several roles at the university, including professor of speech, theatre and journalism, dean of undergraduate studies, interim vice president of enrollment management and special assistant to the president, before her retirement in 2012.

“I still enjoyed my work, and I still enjoyed the students,” Roden said. “But it was time for someone else to take over and present new, creative ideas.”

Roden’s discovery of her artistic talents inspired Reuel Shepherd, director of programs and services for the UCA Division of Outreach and Community Engagement, to begin featuring a series of inspirational stories like Roden’s at UCA Downtown. 

“The idea came up organically in our discussion with Sally,” Shepherd said. “We were discovering her as an artist, but she was also discovering things about herself. We’re calling it the Discover series because of that double meaning. We think this will interest and inspire the Conway community.”

For Roden, becoming a painter was never something she planned. But the discovery has been a welcome one.

“I never expected to be an artist, but it has brought so much joy to my life and to the lives of others,” Roden said. “I feel so blessed to have found this talent and discovered that you never know what you can do until you try.”