There are people with talents, with skills developed through hard work, with charisma. Any of those can translate into success. One trait almost always guarantees success, and Maddy Whatley has it, along with the others: Determination.
Whatley is attending Lone Star College in Huntsville, Alabama, pursuing an associate of arts degree. Her résumé reads like a list of successes, but lists don’t tell the whole story. Whatley has already shown the kind of mettle that can take someone far.
The Texas artist was determined to participate in the Western Art Academy, a summer program at Schreiner University that is funded by the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and taught by representatives of the Susan Kathleen Black Foundation (SKB). She was set to apply for one of the slots at the Western Art Academy (WAA) but she didn’t get her application submitted in time because of … life. “I cried for days,” says Whatley. But she didn’t give up. The WAA rules state that seniors cannot fill slots in the academy, but Whatley tried anyway. “I got special merit awards, got money for it, and was one of the first people to turn in the application the next year. I wasn’t supposed to go as a senior, but they changed the rules and I had the opportunity. So I worked for hours on the rodeo piece.” It was a big step in the direction of becoming an arts professional.
Painting wasn’t even the original goal. Whatley was intent on becoming a culinary star when she was younger. “I honestly thought I was going to be a pastry boss,” she says. “I went through years of buying stuff for culinary school and that changed in high school because of one person.” Her art teacher was “like a mom” and pushed her to develop her art skills. “And I want to do that for someone else someday. To help a few people or a lot of people.” Even when she is working at a day job, Whatley is creating. To make ends meet, she decorates cakes for WalMart. “It was pretty easy to get the job because I had photos of cakes I had done,” she says. “Within three weeks I was in charge and trained others. But there’s no fondant so it isn’t as exciting to me as I thought it would be.”
Whatley’s work ethic and skill impressed the SKB instructors and staff at WAA and led to a scholarship to the SKB workshop last September in Dubois, Wyoming. She applied her discipline to the opportunities of that special week, soaking in the knowledge available from the participating artists and stretching her painting skills in the crisp Wyoming air. The workshop also gave her the opportunity to further develop her teaching abilities during Mentoring Day. Whatley worked with a middle-school student with whom she immediately bonded. “I enjoyed it a lot,” says Whatley. “The student asked a lot of questions about things I knew about, and she seemed really interested in it. To work with someone that young was so great. She was new to Wyoming too, so we had that in common. And she liked art for the same reasons: to get away, for peace and quiet, and to make a picture on canvas.”
Whatley hopes to return to Dubois for another workshop some year, but she says she doesn’t think future visits could eclipse her experience last fall. “I cried when I heard that I was going to Wyoming,” she says. “Being on a plane by myself was another new experience. Driving around and seeing all the scenery! All the artists believed in us scholarship winners and knew we had talent. They never talked down to us like we didn’t know anything, didn’t treat us any different from other artists.”
These days Whatley is back in Texas, attending college and preparing for her next move—and fulfilling commissions. Her boyfriend posted a couple of her pieces online and almost immediately she received inquiries from collectors. “My boyfriend posted them in December and two days later people were asking for it,” she recalls. “He said, ‘I know you can do this. I know a lot of people don’t believe in artists but I believe in you.'”
Whatley believes in herself. And she knows where her heart lives. Although she can paint and draw, sculpting is her passion. “If someone told me I had to stay in a room for a month with clay, I could do it,” says Whatley. “Not so on a drawing.” Ω