Coastal Artist: Hope Walker Morgan

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Photos and story by Kristina Domitrovich

Hope Walker-Morgan never considered herself an artsy person. Growing up, she had a very different relationship with painting.

“I painted when I was younger, but it was not good,” she said with a laugh. “I just didn’t enjoy it.”

Though she wasn’t necessarily interested in making art herself, Walker-Morgan always appreciated it. In fact, when she was living in New Orleans – where she moved right after college and stayed for 22 years – she’d attend art events regularly.

“The culture and the art there is amazing,” she said. “They would have those white-linen nights with the beautiful galleries open for free, and it was like every Friday night, and all my girlfriends and I, that’s what we would do.”

But all her time going to gallery events, “I never saw this kind of thing,” she said, gesturing to her painting on the wall.

About seven years ago, Walker-Morgan moved back to her small, southern beach hometown of Pascagoula, Mississippi. Her mother had dementia and was diagnosed with Alzheimers. She came home to spend as much time with her mom as possible, and to help her sisters with care. She visited her mom for three hours every day, while still keeping her full-time job as a paper supply representative to the southern states, traveling between Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and parts of Florida.

In search of something life-giving, and looking for a way to communicate with her mother, Walker-Morgan picked up her first paintbrush as an adult. From there, her love affair began. 

“It’s just been a really big therapeutic help for me,” she said. “Very calming.”

Walker-Morgan’s style of work is bright and bold and has what she calls extreme volume. She uses heavy-bodied acrylic paint (very pigmented) and mixes it with molding paste: A very thick white substance she mixes with her paint colors, and applies on the canvas. It helps hold the textures she’s trying to capture in her work, while also adding a lot of volume. Before the paste, she would just use a lot of paint, but found those paintings would be rather heavy and difficult for her to transport to shows; the paste makes the paintings lighter and more manageable. Since her paintings have so much mass on them, she buys the paste by the gallon-sized tub.

She used to cover her paintings in a high-gloss finishing coat, but has started experimenting with pouring resin over the dried product because “it’s a lot glossier.” She says she’s having a bit of a tough time with it – there are a lot of fluctuations with weather and the drying time, and the smell is so strong she does it out in her barn. 

Her paintings vary from chunky flowers growing off the canvas, to birds, butterflies, pelicans and some crosses or smaller items around the holidays so people can buy “just a happy” to give as gifts. Before adding a top coat, she said the canvas’ paint-paste mixture takes about five days to dry.

“All my paintings probably have imperfections,” she said, as she’s been struggling with the resin. “But my husband says, ‘You’re the only one that can see them.’”

Her husband is the reason for her art business’ name, Butter Bean and Bird. Her husband loves to cook, and since he’s from Louisiana, he tends to make a lot of cajun food and frequently uses butter beans.

“I hate butter beans,” she laughed. “So I think it happened as a joke because he loves and cooks these butter beans with all his creole-style (food), and I’m like, ‘I’m not eating that.’”

He started calling her Butter Bean as a wry pet name. The other part of her business’ name is her dog, Redd Bird.

Redd Bird is a 10-year-old Australian Shepherd and a bundle of energy. When he rebounded from an injury he acquired while playing ball with Walker-Morgan – the vet said he wouldn’t be able to walk again, but thanks to his pet parents’ dedication and rehab efforts, Redd regained his mobility. She saw him as a source of inspiration. Redd Bird frequently stays in the barn with her while she paints. She laughed that he typically has paint on the bottom of his paws.

In the colder months, she’ll pack up her studio and move into a spare room upstairs. Redd Bird doesn’t like this, since he hasn’t been able to master the stairs again quite yet. Along with Redd Bird, when Walker-Morgan is painting, she may or may not have a glass of wine, but she is always listening to music.

“(If) I am painting, I always listen to this station called ‘French cooking music,’” she said. “I just feel like (and) just wish I was in Paris.”

So on any given night, since she prefers to paint at night, she can be found in her studio with French music playing in the background, piling paint onto a canvas. Loaded with texture and bright, cheerful colors popping off the canvas.

“I think we all need that right now,” she said smiling. 

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