Temple Skelton Moore
@story MARLA CANTRELL
@images TEMPLE SKELTON MOORE
Temple Skelton Moore drives her red convertible along a country road in Prairie Grove, and waves at a neighbor in a pickup headed the other way. Dust rises, gravel pings against the chrome wheels, and the late afternoon sun slices through the maple trees, throwing fretwork patterns across the leather interior. This is the kind of light Temple lives for.
As she pulls into her driveway she says. “I’ve got to have shadows for my art to work. My husband Charles bales hay. ..He’ll call me when the light is right. One cold evening the light was casting these long purple shadows, making the bales look abstract. And they were perfect – I don’t like the ones covered in net because they lose that frizzy look; they lose that texture. Charles was moving the bales to the barn and it was like working with a moving still life. He’d point to one and I’d shake my head and say, ‘Don’t move that one.’ So he’d leave it there and he’d move onto another bale. When the right ones were left, I got my painting.”
Temple, who uses her dining room as her studio, sees the beauty in everyday things. A series of clocks appear one behind the other, time frozen in their arrow-straight hands. Flea market perfume bottles stand at attention, like sentries in the Queen’s service, and a long line of metal lawn chairs, bright as jewels, wait expectantly for a gaggle of weary visitors. “I love acrylics and use them like watercolors, using the transparent and the opaque too,” Temple says. “I love slick paper. I want it to be really smooth. I’m often told I need to switch to canvas, but it’s not the same. The paint needs to slide.”
In her early years Temple used any surface she could find. She devoured magazines, copying the ads where beautiful women pitched everything from Pond’s Cold Cream to Pepto-Bismol. “I made their noses way too long. I also drew a lot of mice, their ears huge, and I’d put a little sparkle in their eyes. ..We lived in a neighborhood that was mostly boys. I had two brothers, and I tried playing with toy cars in the dirt, but you can only take so much of that, so I had to entertain myself. I had this incredible grandma. She made homemade paste and she’d let me cut and glue and she fed that part of me. She’d take Styrofoam and make flowers from the egg cartons. I thought they were gorgeous.”
In high school, she finally had a chance to take art classes. “Everybody else was taking Home Ec. and I was in Art. I was kind of the outsider, but I blossomed there. When I went to the University of Arkansas, I wanted to take art education, but I knew I had to make a living, so my dad encouraged me to get my teaching degree.”
But she still took art classes. Ken Stout was head of the art department at the time. After she finished her degree in elementary education in 1985, he came up with a plan that allowed her to finish a second bachelor’s in fine arts.
And then an Ivy League college took notice of this young woman from Arkansas. “There was a summer art program through Yale - the Yale Norfolk Fellowship - which was on an estate donated to the university. It was eight weeks of painting, print making, drawing and photography.”
Temple had little confidence she’d be selected. She remembers weighing the cost to apply against the possibility of being chosen. She had to produce sixty slides of her work. “That was $127. I thought, you’re kidding me. This is a total waste of money.”
Only it wasn’t. She was one of thirty who made the cut. “The first guy I met was from Scotland and here I was Podunk from Podunk and I thought, What am I doing here? And my parents took me, just to make sure everything was on the up-and-up. I was pretty sheltered.”
For years she’d been working on projects assigned by professors. Suddenly she was being asked what she wanted to do, and once she finished, she had to defend her work to a group of peers and professors. “It was great for me. I learned to be independent. ..I used to be shy. I think without art, I might have turned out to be a mousy little housewife.”
It’s hard to imagine Temple as a mousy anything. When she speaks, she’s as persuasive as any evangelist, making her case for arts in the school, detailing the love she feels for her teenage daughter, grinning when she talks about the husband she met on a blind date. “We got married when we were twenty-nine,” Temple says. “We were so opposite. He was country; I was an artist.” She moves her hands quickly, pointing to her right ear and then to her left collarbone. “I had my hair cut asymmetrical at that time,” she says, as if that summed up exactly what Charles thought when he first saw her.
Charles breaks in. “Her brother called and said, ‘You need to take Temple out, she doesn’t ever go out with anybody.’”
Temple touches the sleeve of Charlie’s jacket. “As soon as I opened the door I was like “yes.” I just knew.”
“She’s taught me so much,” Charles says. “I look at a painting and I don’t see the same thing as she does, but I do know a lot more than I used to. And I’ll tell you something else. She teaches about 700 elementary kids [kindergarten through fourth grade] in Prairie Grove and that’s going to change everything. Not today, but in the next ten to fifteen years.”
“Art broadens these kids’ thinking,” Temple says. “There’s not one right answer. There’s many ways to solve any assignment I give them, and they learn to appreciate differences rather than just conform. ..And if they tell me they don’t like their work, I’ll say, ‘Well, then that means it’s not finished yet. They get that and they work harder. It makes them understand there’s no failure here. “
Outside the classroom, Temple is gathering a roster of adult fans, including Robert Workman, the former executive director of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. “He came to the Clothesline Fair [in Prairie Grove] and bought a painting. Then he told me the frame was awful. He pointed to several others and said you need to reframe this one, this one and this one, and keep them sleek and modern. And I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He was right. He asked me where we got our frames and my husband said, ‘We get them at garage sales.’ That was the only way I could keep my prices low. I saw him at a much later show – I had reframed my work - and he looked at my booth and said, ‘Looks like you took my advice.’”
She continues to gain recognition; one of her pieces will be touring with the Arkansas Artists Registry, and she has an online shop at Etsy called Art by Temple. For the most part, everything she paints is for sale – with a few exceptions. “My mother still had her first pair of red high heels. She was going to throw them away and I said no, no, no. Let me have them. Let me paint them. I still have that, and paintings of my daughter.”
This woman, who lives just three miles from the house where she grew up, is able to capture the world through a complex series of careful brushstrokes. “I see potential in ordinary things. It happens in a split second,” Temple says. “You catch a glimpse or a moment and you paint it.” And that’s the glory of it all, that the contraptions of our everyday life become art in the hands of Temple Skelton Moore.