Reflecting the Light: Morgan Powell turns passion for painting into career

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SEATTLE • When Morgan Fyfe Powell was a little girl living in Oxford, she tried all kinds of sports, but wasn’t particularly good at any of them.

“I was the kid on the soccer field with a bow in my hair, picking wildflowers,” said Powell, 27.

When she was in fourth grade, she began taking art lessons after school from Taylor Ricketts.

“I was creative as a kid, but I didn’t think I’d ever be an artist,” she said.

She was wrong.

Today, art is Powell’s full-time job. She works out of a studio in the home she and her husband, Jesse, share in Seattle. But she hasn’t abandoned her roots and will be bringing her talent to two art festivals in Northeast Mississippi this spring.

She’ll be at the Double Decker Arts Festival in Oxford on April 23, and at the Gumtree Art and Wine Festival in Tupelo May 6-8.

“I’m so excited to do shows again, to meet people and show my work and get to learn other artists’ stories,” she said.

From art student to artist

Powell took some art classes in high school and found them to be a welcome challenge.

“I felt I was getting better, and I was encouraged by teachers, but art was just a hobby,” Powell said.

In high school, she had created several paintings for her parents, Lea and Richard Fyfe of Oxford. Someone saw one and asked Powell if she’d paint something for them while she was a student at Ole Miss.

“I always had a little studio in my room in college,” she said. “It was a healthy outlet for me. It let me be creative.”

She accepted that commission. And then someone else saw that painting and asked her to do six pieces for an investment property.

“They were divine encounters,” Powell said. “And it was a way for me to fund things in college that were fun without having to ask my parents for money.”

Powell majored in social work, and after graduation, she moved to Seattle to take a job in marketing.

“I moved here for a boy, but I wouldn’t admit that until after Jesse and I married,” she said. “I used to say I moved here for work.”

In Seattle, she continued to do artwork on the side as she worked full time.

“At the end of 2019, I was working some pretty long hours and weekends, and I realized I didn’t love marketing,” she said. “I knew I didn’t want to do that for the long haul.”

With some good advice and guidance, Powell quit her job and become a full-time artist at the beginning of 2020.

“It was an interesting journey,” she said. “You build yourself up and are so excited for the transition. But then there’s this pressure to create really good work – something I could be proud of.”

So Powell began creating work without pressure. She just started showing up in her studio every day. If she created something she liked, wonderful. If she created something she didn’t like, at least she’d showed up.

Her artwork soon took on a different look. She would begin a painting with a full layer of gold and silver leaf, then use heavy body acrylics over the gold.

“I had no idea when I was painting with gold what that meant, but I think I do now,” she said. “When I moved to Seattle, I don’t know if I could have found a place more different than the South. It’s really gray here, and people keep to themselves. You don’t meet people as easily, and they’re not very warm. I decided if I’m not going to find that here, I’m going to be that here. When you put a painting with gold on it in a room, it reflects the light it’s in. I feel like that’s me.”

‘A good balance’

Powell specializes in two kinds of paintings: abstracts and landscapes. For the landscapes, she draws from the beauty of both the Pacific Northwest and the South.

“It’s really easy to be inspired,” she said. “I take what they represent from my point of view. I know what it’s going to look like at the end of the painting, but it’s hours and hours before I get there. What story do I really want this painting to tell?”

Powell will do a large batch of landscapes, then go back to abstracts.

“The abstracts are so freeing because I don’t know what they’re going to look like,” she said. “So it’s a good balance. It may take me years to finish one. I may work on 30 paintings at one time. I like the flow of constantly moving from one to another. And that’s also a way not to waste paint.”

Now that COVID-19 restrictions are lifting around the country, Powell is eager to participate in art shows again. She had applied to several in 2020, but they all got canceled. She was able to attend two shows in Seattle in 2021.

At the art festivals in Oxford and Tupelo this spring, Powell will have everything from 4-by-4-inch paintings to 48-by-60-inch paintings as well as stationery card prints.

“I want to have a range for people’s space and budgets,” she said. “I feel like art is an investment, not just financially, but also an investment in the space in your house.”

Powell and her husband don’t have a lot of wall space in their townhouse on a beach in Seattle. She has one painting hanging, and it isn’t even one of her own.

“When we grow out of this house, I’d love to support other artists,” she said. “I want to have their work on my walls.”

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