On the sleepy main street of downtown Celeste, nestled perfectly in the middle of a shopping strip, sits the most unassuming and unexpected of businesses: an art gallery, boasting wall after wall of pastels, oils and watercolors, a classroom for art lessons and space still to expand.
Friends Fine Art Gallery and Studio, founded by sisters-in-art Donna Myers and Betty Smith, brings a touch of big-city artistry to the town of just 872 people. It’s the kind of place you might expect to find in Downtown Dallas or the streets of an even larger city, and that irony isn’t lost on Myers and Smith.
“It’s a very unique thing for our town to have,” Smith said. “And it’s the third largest business in town!”
Smith and Myers both agreed that the decision to establish Friends in Celeste simply came down to convenience – neither are native to the town, but Myers grew up close by and Smith escaped the bustling Metroplex atmosphere for a quiet retirement on property just outside the town.
Starting a fine art gallery, however, and much less one in which the ladies might actually sell their art and teach classes, was never something that either expected.
“I started painting as a kid, with a little art class in Bluebirds… I couldn’t play the piano and couldn’t sing, so I did that up until college,” Smith said. “But then, you know, you have to make a living, and this is a very hard way to make a living.”
Myers, on the other hand, said she began to take an interest in creating art at a much later time – after she had retired.
“I always loved anything to do with art, but I had never actually done anything myself,” she said. “I had always just admired it, but then I met some ladies who did art and they kind of mentored me, and I just loved it.”
Everything changed when Betty and Donna met each other at an art class in Commerce, and a friendship quickly formed along with other members of the class when the pair realized they each lived in or near Celeste and began carpooling to the art class.
“There were three of us, originally, and we would get together to paint during the day and then text each other our art at night,” Myers said. “We called the group our ‘painting buddies!’ We would critique each other’s work and make comments, and that’s how we really got started.”
One unique aspect of Friends is that the gallery also doubles as a studio for Betty and Donna, as well as a class space for the two to teach art lessons. The space they occupy isn’t perfect for a gallery by chance – it had originally been outfitted for a now-defunct art gallery.
“When we first opened, we had a lot of curious people just wanting to see what we were doing over here,” Smith said. “The school here has a wonderful art department led by Crawford Moore.. The murals that you see over here at the ends of the buildings, every year the senior class does those.”
Smith said she and Myers host a reception and art show for those high school senior artists each year – just one way to give back to a community that has shown incredible support for its fine arts community.
“It’s really all about that small town community support,” the pair agreed.
The art Betty and Donna enjoy most is as varied as the art they create.
“One of my favorite art museums is the Meadows Gallery (in Dallas) and one of my favorite artists has to be Joaquin Sorolla – they have a lot of his art there,” Smith said. “He’s a realistic painter, did a lot of portraits and landscapes, and he painted enormous paintings. He’s also one of the few painters in the early 1900s who made a living at it because he was constantly painting.”
Donna, on the other hand, said she couldn’t necessarily nail down a single favorite museum or artist, but that her personal tastes in art are heavily informed by one of her other primary hobbies: quilting.
“I don’t know that I have one favorite,” Myers said. “I’m a ‘colorist,’ so any artist that uses unique or vibrant colors is what attracts me. I quilted for years before I started art, so that’s where I picked up the value of using color that way.”
Even in a town as small as Celeste, Myers and Smith both say that pursuit and nurturing of the fine arts is an extremely important and valuable endeavor, as evidenced by the murals created by Celeste High School students.
“When I start a piece, I have a vision in my mind of what I want it to be, and I’ll struggle and struggle and spend days and weeks trying to get it to match that vision,” Myers said. “To me, it’s a challenge to match that vision and to use that creative side of you that you don’t really use in many other things.”
Smith added that the creation of fine art, no matter the medium and no matter how small the audience, is a part of her own small revolt against the transience and materialism of so many other pursuits in life.
“You know, you feel like you buy and sell so much in your life, between cars and houses and all that, and creating something artistic might not change the world,” she said, “but it can kind of leave the world a little more beautiful.”
The pair also agreed that art studies are important for the community’s youth, again evidenced by the accomplishments of Celeste’s young art students.
“Art just excites children so much,” Myers said. “And it’s the same with art or music or whatever else – it puts you in a better frame of mind.”