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Share Your Story: Art is meant to be shared

Staff Report • Mar 28, 2013 at 11:18 AM

When Gate City artist Jim Spears died in 2009, he left behind a small barn full of original art work, life-size sculptures, coal statues, prints, music and inventions.

His widow, Betty Hickman Hall, would like to see Jim’s paintings and other artistic treasures in good homes where the items can be admired and enjoyed by others.

"Jim grew up in Scott County, and people are familiar with his work," Betty says.

"There are hundreds of paintings, sculptures and prints just collecting dust… and it’s a shame not to share his talent," she adds, choking back tears.

Jim was born and raised on a farm in Alley Valley; his mother died when he was just 18-months-old. His father, Joe, was a banjo player and casket maker.

"Growing up without a mother, Jim entertained himself by drawing, painting or whittling to pass the time," Betty explained.

He was married at the young age of 15 and joined the Marines when he was only 17.

"Jim lied about his age and joined the Marines, just to have three square meals a day." He would serve three years in the South Pacific Theatre of World War II and, amidst the horror of war, Jim found his Lord and Savior.

Once he returned to the United States, Jim was stationed in California where he learned to weld which, in turn, landed him a job at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. He put his skills to work repairing submarines. When he got back home to Scott County, he enrolled in welding classes to get his GED, which led to a long career with the Scott County school system as a welding instructor.

"He was extremely civic-minded and donated his time to create many sculptures for Scott County," according to Betty. His work can be seen throughout the county and includes "Big Blue" at Gate City High School, the "Rye Cove Eagle" at Rye Cove High School, and the "Military Man" at the Scott County Courthouse. His most ambitious project, the life-size sculpture of "The Last Supper," took Jim seven years to create and, today, is on display at Rhoton & Smith Furniture Company in Weber City.

Along with the life-size sculptures, Jim created small, stick-like figures made from nails, as well as desk-size "coal" statues. The nail sculptures were one of Jim’s biggest sellers and now reside in collections around the world. He didn’t pick up painting until after retirement and only took one class in art instruction.

Jim worked mainly in oil and acrylics and used pastels on occasion. The majority of his work consists of landscapes, including numerous Scott County landmarks like the Scott County Courthouse, downtown Gate City, Williams’ Mill, Lunsford Mill, and the John Anderson Blockhouse. According to Betty, Jim could look at a scene on television and replicate it on canvas. That ability is evident throughout the barn, where you will find everything from Southwestern mesas to scenic Northeastern coastal villages. He also created vibrant still life paintings that would look beautiful hanging in a foyer or dining room.

He also loved music and could play many instruments. It was at a local "jam session" that Jim and Betty met in 1992 and then married a year and a half later. They had almost 17 years together before he died from a heart attack.

Back in his early years, Jim had a band called "Jim Spears and the Bandits." Once he learned Betty could yodel, he talked her into doing a television show with him, called "The Jim & Betty Spears Show" that aired on Local Cable STE Channel 30. "Friends tell me our voices blended well together."

Jim was a pioneer in broadcasting and "rigged a Panasonic Camera with long levers and handles at the end so that I could control and maneuver it for close-ups as well as wide angle shots." One of his inventions, "Gus the Drummer," became a favorite with viewers. Jim created Gus and fashioned the drums from used JFG coffee cans. As Gus would beat the drum to Jim’s rendition of "Wipeout," a big black spider would wreak havoc on Gus’ playing. Jim would stand behind the curtain working Gus’ arms while Betty handled the strings on the spider.

When speaking with Betty, it’s evident she loved and admired her late husband. Today, she wants to share his talent with others.

Most of the work is for sale; there are a few sentimental pieces that Betty does not want to part with. The large 22-inch by 30-inch original art work ranges in price from $300 to $400; smaller original works are from $100 to $300. Prices are dependent on the subject matter. Original sculptures of a life-size Daniel Boone, Abe Lincoln bust, globe and Bicentennial Eagle are also for sale.

"It breaks my heart to see Jim’s work collecting dust," Betty says. "He was an artist, and his work was meant to be shared."

To view Jim’s work, you may contact Betty at 276-386-9452 or via email at bebbee65@yahoo.com. To see more of his work, please visit the Scott County Virginia Tourism Facebook page.

Pam Cox shared this story. If you'd like to Share Your Story, send it to sundayscrapbook@timesnews.net. We'll feature selected "Share Your Story" submissions from readers each month in Sunday Scrapbook.

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