It’s a Small Pond

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story and portraits by Lindsay Pace

Haley Montgomery stays close to the surface of her soul. The Starkville-based graphic designer speaks with a level of grace understood by those who have experienced loss.

Montgomery began her freelance design business, It’s a Small Pond, ten years ago. Nine years ago, she lost her husband. Her artistic philosophies echo the clarity death brings: Life is brief; take advantage of every moment.

“It’s important to stay close to what really lights your fire,” Montgomery said,  “To what really matters to you. And what I want in my business is to not necessarily be the biggest, or grow the fastest, or even be around the longest, but to really have a business that serves what my family’s needs.”

Montgomery  grew up in West Point, Mississippi, when school art programs were nonexistent. After seeing Montgomery’s natural apt for storytelling and visual arts, a high school teacher recommended she begin a mentorship with a local commercial artist. That’s when she learned graphic design could be a profession.

But first, she’d try architecture.

“I decided to take a stint into [an architecture program at Mississippi State] because I love design. I love space. I love the three-dimensional part of it,” she said. “But I realized through that process that while I loved the buildings and the spaces, I didn’t love what all went into making them.”

When Montgomery shifted into graphic design, it was a “perfect combination of words and pictures.” Currently, she creates graphics, posters and products for a wide range of clients, including the Starkville school district and the Greater Starkville Development Partnership. She also manages an Etsy shop that focuses on watercolor and letterpress-based products. She recharges through creative play.

“If I don’t [make room for creative play], and I don’t have that creative outlet … then I feel almost lost,” Montgomery said. “There’s this part of the client work that suffers because of that. Without it, you risk getting stale or losing some of that excitement and that curiosity about whatever’s coming up next.”

One of Montgomery’s favorite projects highlighted the 50th anniversary of the integration of Starkville’s now-dissolved Henderson High School. She created weekly graphics to tell the story of a Black public school that integrated in 1970, and the white supremacist violence Black residents and schoolgoers faced because of it.

“Whether it’s painting or design work or writing,” Montgomery said,  “Storytelling is the main thing I love about my job.”

The flexibility of freelancing allows Montgomery to take on a wide range of projects, like educating others on racial tension, or painting idyllic scenes for Etsy clients. But it also allowed her to grieve when she lost her husband.

“Being a freelancer was a real blessing,” Montgomery said. “There’s a lot that’s involved in [death] and dealing with your own grief and your children’s grief.”

Now, Montgomery has the freedom to be selective and wide-ranging in her artwork. She once believed her expansive portfolio meant she was “flighty.”

“I’d say, ‘You’re not being consistent,’ and then I realized that the benefit of being an artist is being able to experiment.”

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