Though she didn’t receive any formal training until she started college, Mary Constance “Connie” Haralson has been an artist her entire life.
The Cartersville resident’s love for drawing, painting and sculpting emerged during her childhood and kept growing until it developed into a passion.
“I have been an artist forever,” her artist biography says. “As a child, I had pencils, crayons, an occasional block of modeling clay. My first ‘show’ was a copy of a Currier and Ives winter scene for a small bulletin board in my fourth-grade classroom. Art, in one form or another, has always been the weft and weave of my life.”
A sampling of Haralson’s watercolors, pottery and clay sculptures are being featured in the art gallery of the Cartersville Public Library at 429 W. Main St. through Nov. 30.
Adult services librarian Tiffanie Dotson said Haralson is “just so talented,” but it’s obvious from her biography that “all that talent comes from years of practice and hard work.”
“There is just something so peaceful about her paintings,” she said. “It is very calming to just stop a minute and stare. She also has a lot of figurines and pottery in the display case. They are exquisite. I love the bowls and trays."
Haralson had been part of a group art display at the library before, but this is her first solo exhibit.
“[The gallery] is a nice focal point, and having the gallery and artwork around is a good thing because a lot of people come in with little kids, and it gives the community a chance to stop and take a deep breath and look at something nice and pretty or interesting or all of that,” she said. “I wish it were bigger."
The avid reader said she loves visiting the library and wants other people to “enjoy the library more.”
“I’m here almost every week for something," she said.
“She is a very good patron here at the library, and we are always trying to feature local artists and especially the artwork of our patrons,” Dotson added.
The collection on display includes six paintings of landscapes and flowers that are hanging in the gallery and a display case filled with nature-inspired pottery and whimsical clay sculptures.
"I just pick up a piece of clay and start messing with it,” the artist said. “I've done that my whole life."
Haralson said she had done acrylics for a long time, "but then when I fell in love with watercolor, I pretty much do that."
"I guess [I enjoy] the freedom of it,” she said. “It's exciting when the picture turns out. A lot of people have trouble with watercolor because things happen, and it's not what you expected. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. I tend to really get excited when it takes off and does its own thing.”
The Virginia native, who gets most of her artistic inspiration from nature, explained how she incorporated pieces of wood into her bowls and pressed leaves into her trays to make impressions.
"My pottery tends to be fairly organic in that when I walk dogs and stuff like that, I'm always looking around, and like these pieces down here on the bottom, both of these have wood in them that came from a beach in Jekyll Island,” she said. “The leaves, they came from ferns and different things that I found in the woods when I was walking and pressed them [into the clay]."
Haralson, who has tried different art forms but has mostly “stuck with either painting or sculpting" the last 10 years, said she never knows what her creation will look like when it’s finished.
"Sometimes I'll see a picture, and that'll put something in my head then when I go back and look at the picture after what I've done, it hardly ever matches," she said.
The artist, who has been hired for commissioned work, said she enjoys painting landscapes and flowers, but she doesn't draw or paint people.
"I can do them in a background far off or something like that, but I don't try the portrait kind of stuff,” she said. “I tend to like trees and things because they're fairly organic, but you don't have to represent them exactly."
Sometimes, she said, it might take her several weeks to finish a piece, "but now, if it's something I'm really juiced about, I can paint it in one day because I don't go eat or do anything [because of COVID]."
After high school, Haralson wanted to attend a post-secondary institution, but she didn’t think she’d ever get the chance to be a college co-ed.
"I had wanted to go to college forever,” she said. “When I was in high school, I did the SAT, and the results came back. The counselor told me I should just plan to stay home and have babies.”
But once her daughters, Jennifer and Jessica, were both in school, Haralson said she enrolled in DeKalb Community College “to avoid going to work at Rich’s” and ended up earning a two-year degree in art, although she initially planned to become a teacher.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she said. “Fortunately, my counselor [at DeKalb] was the head of the art department, and that was the beginning for me.”
After graduating from DCC, Haralson finished her bachelor’s degree in art at Agnes Scott College then went to work for a framing gallery, where she met the woman who would teach her to appreciate watercolors.
"There was this lady that came in,” she said. “She had some paintings in there, and I just loved them. They were gorgeous things. She came in, and it was like she was effervescent. She was just so alive and wonderful. She was teaching watercolor at a center in downtown Decatur, and she kept pestering me every time she'd come in because she knew I was an artist and had graduated."
The woman kept insisting that Haralson take her class, and "I said, ‘I did watercolor once upon a time, and I really didn't like it.’”
But the new college graduate finally relented and started taking the classes, and the first painting she completed is hanging in the library exhibit.
"There were several [people] who'd been taking classes for a long time from her, and I found it very intimidating because they were really good,” she said. “I started working on that picture, and at some point when I was near the end of it, she came by, and she looked at it, and she said, 'I don't know what you're doing, but keep on.'
“It's just there, and when I sit down in front of a piece of paper and start working on it, often I don't know what I'm going to do or maybe I've got a slice of an idea. But then I just start dragging out the paint and doing things, and if I like it, fine, keep on."
Haralson — who attended Georgia State and Mercer universities briefly and started on her master's degree at the University of Georgia but didn't finish it — said she’s held a variety of positions, including teaching at a special education school, working at Emory University in telecommunications and a "whole bunch of odd jobs."
"At the time that I was aging into womanhood, the possibilities for women were quite small,” she said. “There really wasn't a lot of opportunity, and when I look back on it, I never had any training. It seems less complicated now than it did when I was growing up. Nobody talked to you about the possibilities of being able to choose a field and stay there."
But the grandmother of four said she's "not complaining."
"When I really look back, I've had lots of adventures, met lots of nice people and basically, I'm excited about keeping on keeping on,” she said. “You learn a lot from your mistakes."