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A painter, a parrot and an English professor

December 18, 2012 | Ian Richardson

Dr. Nathan Nelson, chairman of Evangel’s Humanities Department, entered the University’s  Bellwether Gallery more out of duty than enthusiasm that July evening.

As he perused the children’s art exhibit, however, his spirits gradually lifted.

Then he saw it: a colorful painting titled Tropical Parrot. Its simple yet imaginative depiction of a bird on a branch struck the professor, and it now hangs framed on a wall in his office. This is the story of how it got there.

A budding artist

Nine-year-old Ava Powell cannot remember a time when she did not enjoy painting.

“It is fun to paint,” she says, “because you can use different kinds of brushes and you don’t have do a specific thing. You just paint.” Through painting, she has found a way to marry her love of art with another love – animals. Animals are her favorite subjects to paint, especially golden retrievers and birds. When she grows up, she plans to be a veterinarian or work at a pet store or animal shelter.

In the summer of 2012, Ava began taking art classes at Noah’s Art, a chain of studios that provides workshops for young artists. In July, Noah’s Art sent an exhibit to be featured at Evangel’s Bellwether Gallery. The studio selected one of Ava’s paintings, Tropical Parrot, to be among the featured pieces. Ava was excited to have her art in a public display. “It felt pretty cool to have my painting hung up where lots of people could see it,” she says.

Evangel’s Bellwether Gallery is located in the Monarch Art Factory building in downtown Springfield, Missouri. It regularly displays artwork created by Evangel students, faculty and, sometimes, visiting artists. The exhibits include art in a variety of mediums, such as paintings, sculptures, printmaking, drawings and constructions.

It was here that Dr. Nelson noticed the painting. “The first thing I noticed was the ‘pop’ of bright colors,” he says. “The second was the semi-abstract representation of the bird.” As his appreciation for the painting deepened, so did its draw. “I think that the feeling of wanting the painting preceded the conscious thought of buying it,” he says.


Ava and her mother, Rebecca Powell, show Dr. Nelson some of her other pieces. During her visit, Ava got to choose the spot where her painting would be displayed.

Soon after, he asked whether Ava would be willing to sell the piece to him. After some consideration, Ava agreed under the condition that she could meet the potential buyer. She wanted to ensure that her painting was going to a home where it would be enjoyed, not to a place where the buyer would seldom be home to see it or where it would be hidden in some drawer or closet.

Dr. Nelson happily invited Ava to visit him at Evangel not only to complete the transaction but also to give her the opportunity to see where her work would be displayed. Ava was thrilled.

“Welcome Ava!”

On October 18, a “Welcome Ava!” sign stood in front of the Humanities lobby, and Dr. Nelson greeted Ava and her mother, Rebecca, in his office. Ava showed Dr. Nelson some of her other artwork, and then Dr. Nelson let her choose the best spot for her painting to be displayed in his office. After having their picture taken, Dr. Nelson and Powells toured the art facilities in the Barnett Fine Arts Center on Evangel’s campus.

“It was fun to know who was going to get my painting and the different places my painting might be displayed at Evangel,” says Ava, looking back on her experiences that day.

“My favorite part was seeing all of the art work that was already on display at the university and knowing that my painting was going to be displayed there too.”

“This entire experience has been fantastic,” says Rebecca. “This opportunity meant so much to Ava, and to our whole family.” Rebecca is especially thankful to the Bellwether gallery for partnering with Noah’s Art so that children like Ava could have the chance to see their art on display in a public, professional setting.

A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Nelson opened his email to find a message from Ava’s mom. It read, “Ava was so excited because I told her we are coming for the first time to the Christmas concert at Evangel.  Her eyes lit up when she heard, and she exclaimed, ‘Evangel University?!’ because having met you the school now has a special meaning to her.”

Dr. Nelson smiled. This may not the last time he will hear about Ava Powell.

The Bellwether Gallery is on Main Street, just south of College. The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Friday; noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday; and is closed Sunday and Monday.

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