Teacher relates art to everyday life in the Mississippi Delta

Ryals painting in her studio in Clarksdale, MS. Photo by Mary Arden Guyton

Mary Arden Guyton
Oxford Stories

Emory Ryals has always had an appreciation for art, but it wasn’t until her sophomore year at Ole Miss that she decided to pick up a paintbrush and pursue her passion to paint. She has since moved from Oxford to Marks, Mississippi to teach special education inclusion and biology, but her art continues to shine in all that she does.

Ryals began painting abstract pantings on various sizes of canvases and wooden blocks. Her art is displayed on her Instagram account @emory__art, which began her journey of producing and selling art for wider audiences.

Ryals admits early challenges of feeling uneducated in art as an education major rather than an art major, but quickly learned to trust her creative instinct rather than chase the approval of others. Ryals participated in the Double Decker Arts Festival on the Square in Oxford last April and sold her entire booth of original paintings. She is scheduled to have a booth in this year’s festival and is looking forward to being able to participate again.

Ryals’ finished, original paintings in her studio. Photo by Mary Arden Guyton.

“My style of art is very abstract,” she said. “I love color. I can’t stay away from it. I love approaching art in a childlike way, embracing my inner child and trusting my instincts.”

Ryals has many art inspirations. One is Heather Day, a modern abstract artist with galleries across the U.S. Day’s abstract style and consistent use of bright colors have strongly influenced Ryals’ work, but Ryals hopes to grow and push boundaries.

“As a young artist, I’m trying to find my own voice though, and create interesting and different art rather than perfect art,” Ryals said.

Ryals has also been inspired by ordinary places, objects and scenery. The line ‘to look and look again’ from the poem To Begin With, the Sweet Grass written by Mary Oliver has impacted the way she views places, especially her town of Marks. This poem inspired her to pay attention to her surroundings.

Ryals enjoys taking photos of older buildings throughout the Mississippi Delta with splashes of vibrant colors. Some may overlook these as artwork, but Ryals admires them and encourages others to look around and see what beauty they can find where they are.

“Painting has taught me to pay attention to color in every place I go,” she said. “I think Mary Oliver’s poem sums up what painting teaches me. I ‘look and look again’ even in ordinary places, and try to transfer that feeling in my art.”

View of Ryals’ studio in Clarksdale where she paints the majority of her work. Photo by Mary Arden Guyton.

The Mississippi Delta is a place filled with farmland. Some might believe it’s void of vibrancy. But Ryals consistently stops to look for color and excitement in everyday life. She has a vast appreciation for the place where she grew up. It’s simplicity and charm continues to call her.

“I love the Mississippi Delta,” she said. “A lot of America’s art today began here, which is so inspiring to me. So as long as I’m here, I’ll always be creating something, even if it’s not on canvas.

Ryals’ passion for art goes beyond putting a paintbrush to a canvas. She hopes to express what art has taught her to all she encounters. As a school teacher, she incorporates art into teaching.

“I try to incorporate hope, poetry and purpose in everything I do,” she said. “Painting is just one way I can express hope, but I think teaching is the main way I express that hope.”

She has touched lives of students, peers, and strangers through her art. Maggie Blane, a close friend of Ryals through Young Life in Oxford, has enjoyed supporting Ryals’ passion.

“When I think of Emory’s art, the one thing that comes to mind is love,” Blane said. “Every time I look at any of Emory’s art, I am reminded of how unique every piece of her art is, and each time I look at it, I am constantly finding something else I love about it.”

Ryals’ passion for art will always affect her interactions with others and her surroundings. As a schoolteacher of subjects that traditionally do not require art in the curriculum, she will never quit teaching her students about the importance art can have in their lives.

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