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Local artist makes official Ga. ornaments
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Newton County resident Cindy Murphy considers herself a starving artist, but this starving artist has been improving her skills for the past 15 years and recently received a top state honor, when Gov. Nathan Deal chose her for to make Georgia's official Christmas ornaments.

Much of Murphy's artistic journey hangs on the walls of the Southern Heartland Art Gallery in downtown Covington, where she is a founding member. She's best known for her prominent mosaic and oil paintings, pieces which apparently caught the state's eye and gave her the honor of making the 24 ornaments, which will be displayed on Georgia's state tree in the 2012 National Christmas Tree display in Washington D.C. on Dec. 6.

"I'm excited to see Georgia once again take part in this tradition and I am proud of these talented Georgia artists who continue to grow our state's rich culture," Deal said in a press release. "This display will exhibit our state's efforts to save precious wildlife and unite Georgians with the rest of our nation as we celebrate the 2012 holiday season together."

For Murphy, the honor of being selected by the governor was confirmation for her decision to pursue her art.

"It took me awhile to consider myself an artist. To be selected by the governor for the state of Georgia, I was incredibly honored and shocked. It was pretty amazing," Murphy said.

The theme for this year's tree was "Weekend for Wildlife: Wild Success Stories - 25 Years and Counting" to honor the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' 25 years of work to conserve Georgia's wildlife. Murphy was chosen for her unique type of art, titled "Thingmaker," where she combines oil paintings with a mosaic approach, often using stained glass, mirror, natural stones and shells, to created a multi-medium piece.

Murphy and 13 youth students (taught by Southern Heartland artists Elise Hammond and Susan Adams) from the Southern Heartland Arts created 24 ornaments symbolizing the wildlife theme, including prominent success stories such as the bald eagle, sea turtle, purple pitcher plant and the robust redhorse fish.

"It is an honor to be selected because I have been very involved with creating the awards for our Georgia Department of Natural Resources for several years," Murphy said in a press release. "...wildlife and Georgia's beautiful ecosystem as subject matter has become an integral part of my artistic expression."

A resident of the county for the past 18 years, Murphy, who was born in Tuscon, Ariz., reveals that she is easily inspired by nature, sometimes simply looking out of the store window of the Southern Heartland Art Gallery at the sun and the way it might warmly press against a light post. According to an online bio, one of her main goals is to see and paint the relationship of colors in light and shadow.

Murphy and 15 other local artists have been working for the past eight years to grow the Southern Heartland Art Guild, which now has 150 members.

"After coming here, everyone at the art gallery has been such a huge support to me. It's a wonderful positive place here. We get inspired by each other and motivate each other. I have been evolving ever since," she said Friday.

Though she considers herself a starving artist, Murphy has claimed many local awards, including a recent third place finish in a recent Covington art show in September. Local shopper Linda Larson disagrees with any attempt to downplay Murphy's talent. Larson boasted about Murphy's work as she browsed through the Southern Art Gallery having incorporated many of Murphy's paintings in her own home decor.

Murphy and her eldest sister, who is also an artist, both came up with their "2 Sister Color Creation" brand, where they feature their mosaics in both local and international shows. She considers her sister and late husband two important factors in her life that inspired her to pick up a paintbrush.

"Well, I've always loved to draw and paint. My sister used to draw all the time and I wanted to be just like her, she was older than me. I had to draw just like her. When I was married, my husband pushed me to go to art school," she said.
She received a degree in commercial art at Miami Dade Technical College 1992 in Florida.

Murphy aspires to inspire. Southern Heartland Arts was built to give back to the community and she feels it is important for residents to embrace what art is all about.

"Every aspect of our lives is affected somehow by the arts. Kids and children need to know that when they go to choose their career, everything really takes an artistic touch. If we didn't have the arts where would we be?" Murphy said.

To become a member of the Southern Heartland Arts gallery, which is a nonprofit organization, the cost to join is $35 a year per member, or $45 a year for families. They also give scholarships every year to high school students seeking to earn a college degree in the arts as well as young underprivileged children who want to attend art camps or classes during the summer.

"The main thing to me is a lot of people think they can't do it. What I tell people is that if you have the desire you can do it. Once you have the desire, then you work on the skills, and the more you practice the better you get at it," Murphy said.

Every Tuesday Southern Heartland Arts hosts its "Paint Party" even, which is free and open to the public.

Teachers are on hand to help and encourage those who are interested in the fine arts. The Southern Heartland Art Gallery is located at 1132 Monticello Street, Covington; for more information, visit or call (770) 788-8799.