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Oklahoma woman’s art inspired by work with children

July 16, 2018

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) — Hillary McQueen says her passions for painting and caring for children are intertwined.

As an artist using acrylic paints, she seeks to make lives a little happier.

As Kids’ Space executive director, she works with agencies dealing with child abuse, the Muskogee Phoenix reported.

She said her work with children is the inspiration for a lot of her art work.

“There’s a lot of sadness with the child abuse and the kids who come in and out,” she said. “I want them to feel hopeful when they look at my artwork. I want them to feel like they’re going off into some other place.”

McQueen recalls drawing much of her inspiration from her mother, artist Louise Bishop.

She also recalls growing up with a love of music, especially the 1960s sounds of The Who, The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel. However, her involvement in the visual arts and team soccer kept her from acting on that love until she grew up.

“I never had time to play an instrument,” she said.

McQueen went to Northeastern State University on a soccer scholarship. She switched to the University of Oklahoma after she broke her foot.

She started college as an art major but switched to human relations after working with children.

“I loved art, but I saw something I felt compelled to help with,” she said.

McQueen now pursues her love of music, art and children.

She said painting helps her “get out all my feelings.”

“I love it,” she said. “It brings me peace.”

Hillary McQueen traces her love of art to a spark.

“I got a spark one day and started drawing and I loved it,” she said, recalling how her mother would show her different techniques and things to draw.

“I entered an art contest in the fifth grade for the superintendent’s Christmas card, and I won that,” she said. “It made me really excited, not to have the attention necessarily, but to solidify that I was actually kind of good.”

McQueen said her fifth-grade teacher, Margaret Wagner at Tony Goetz Elementary School, always had art projects going on.

“The highlights of my childhood always were around art work,” McQueen said.

She kept painting into adulthood.

“Just because I didn’t have a degree in art, doesn’t mean I can’t do what I love,” McQueen said.

Her “studio” is a table in one corner of a back room, filled with windows. Paint brushes poke out of a cup. She prefers the table to an easel.

“I think I concentrate on a lot of detail, and when I get to the point that I want a lot of detail, I have to get really close,” she said.

Most of the paintings are colorful, contemporary pieces, often featuring children or angels. She also does colorful landscapes.

“The contemporary symbolism pieces are more of my heart,” she said. “They don’t take as long as the landscapes. But the intention behind them is worth more.”

McQueen turned a college job into a career — and a passion.

“All the little kids I worked with were so sweet,” she said. “Sometimes one would not come back and I’d ask (people at the day care center) why, and they’d say ‘that was the foster home bringing them in.’”

McQueen recalled other times when she’d change a diaper and see bruises.

“I loved these kids and I wanted to make sure they were okay,” she said.

Moved by what she saw, McQueen switched her major to human relations.

After graduating, she worked as a “runner” for the Department of Human Services Muskogee office. The job involved picking up children, supervising visitations.

She recalled taking children’s clothes to the laundromat “because they had been contaminated with fleas.”

McQueen later got a job as volunteer coordinator at Kids’ Space. She was an advocate and forensic interviewer before becoming executive director.

“My strength has been to always see things abstractly,” she said. “Because of that, we have done the most innovative work that a child advocacy center in Oklahoma has done.”

McQueen is fulfilling another youthful ambition.

“I promised myself that, by the time I turned 30 I would learn to play guitar,” she said. “So when I was 29, I went and bought a guitar.”

She recalled taking lessons, but wasn’t able to fit them into her schedule.

“So I just watched YouTube videos and learned from that,” she said.

McQueen said she spent a year studying the videos. She continues to learn.

“I’ll honestly say that I don’t play classical acoustic,” she said. “Some of the chords I play, I call them cheater chords. For me it works because I just play for myself and my kids.”

She said her children like to sing along.

The first chords McQueen said she learned were A, B, C and D.

“So I would go through and look at all the songs that had those chords,” she said. “I would play a song that had those chords probably three months after I started playing.”

She said she likes playing the music of singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles. She said she also enjoys playing The Beatles and The Eagles, even though The Beatles’ songs are hard.

Q: How did you come to be an Okie from Muskogee?

A: I grew up here. I came back after I graduated from OU because I did not want my children to grow up without their grandparents close by. It was a luxury I had growing up. My grandma Mabel was like my second mom.

Q: What do you like best about Muskogee?

A: I like that there is a sense of familiarity about everything. Every corner I walk on, every street I drive down ... I also love that there is a thriving art community. I feel like all the community members appreciate art work. In the last few years, people started to incorporate art into downtown revitalization.

Q: What would make Muskogee a better place to live?

A: If our community became better educated on children’s sexual abuse. It can happen that we can save children from becoming a victim.

Q: What person in Muskogee do you admire most?

A: My grandma Mabel Sanderson. She just had her 93rd birthday. Our whole family holds kindness above everything. She taught us all that. She would give the shirt off her back for anybody. She proved that time and time again.

Q: What is the most memorable thing to happen to you in Muskogee?

A: Probably meeting my husband. We’ve been together since we were 15 or 16. He was a really obnoxious friend of my sister’s, and we ended up dating. We went to OU at the same time, and we ended up getting married.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

A: Go junking, play the guitar, watch movies with my kids, watch my kids play sports. I love watching them play golf.

Q: How would you sum up Muskogee in 25 words or less?

A: A place to call home and a growing, thriving art community that’s diverse.

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Information from: Muskogee Phoenix, http://www.muskogeephoenix.com

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