photograph by Heather Simmons
Sixteen-year-old Rebecca Matson stands before a new canvas, mulling over the colors in her palette. Taking brown paint, she creates the first lines of a country church, like the one she discovered while walking in the woods. Tonight’s painting spree could last until dawn. On weekends, she often fights off sleep until her work flows smoothly. There’s no alternative for this perfectionist painter.
“I’ll just dream about my art and wake up in the middle of the night,” she says.
The invitation to create is one she readily accepts. Rebecca, a high school sophomore, has studied art privately for 13 years. At St. George’s Independent School, she takes pottery, photography, and drawing, as well as summer classes at Memphis College of Art. Her passion and dedication has paid off. Rebecca received St. George’s Emerging Young Artist Award for 2012, which honors a student who shows great potential in the field of visual art. And her work was accepted for the school’s juried fine art show and sale, an honor reserved for a few select students.
“I used to not want people to know that I was an artist, but I told myself that being cool is overrated,” she says. “If you have a talent and you’re getting recognition for it, obviously you’re good at it, so do something with it.”
While jogging in her Germantown neighborhood, she notices trees, animals, and blooming flowers, drawing inspiration from nature. And each year, Rebecca studies her own reflection in the mirror for a self-portrait. The drawings record her physical growth as well as her development as an artist. While she keeps these, many of Rebecca’s other paintings hang in the homes of friends and clients.
Last year, she started an art business, A Girl and Her Brush, in response to demand for her. A recent painting of a Venetian courtyard was commissioned as a birthday gift.
“I started with relatives who needed art pieces for houses and apartments. Then I kept on going.” Now she is learning to price her art. “I call my mom my business manager,” she says with a laugh. “She hands out my business cards to friends.”
Rebecca donates 10 percent of her earnings to Special Olympics and is also saving up to buy a car. As she plans commissioned projects, her cheerful spirit endears her to clients. Her school’s Fine Arts faculty recognized this quality and presented her with the Most Enthusiastic award.
“Rebecca is 100 percent interested in everything we do in the class and is always developing her skills and open to learning,” says Rose Doherty, artist-in-residence at St. George’s. “That’s so exciting for her as a young artist.”
Her parents, Arnold and Laura Beth, work as managers at FedEx. The family includes 13-year-old Bennett and 18-year-old Anna Lewis. After recently touring the University of Cincinnati, Rebecca is considering a career in industrial design.
“I never knew there was artwork in everyday life,” she explains. “I have Southern values that I love dearly, but I want to experience college far away and see what’s out there.”
Rebecca plans to add her signature to her finished work in the coming years. “My dream is to never give up art. I’ll always try to get better and better.”