Doris Genevieve Williamson Mapes (1920–2013)

Doris Genevieve Williamson Mapes became one of Arkansas’s leading mid-twentieth-century artists. Adept in a variety of paint media, she was best known as a watercolorist who used bold, bright colors with strong patterns and abstract designs. Mapes’s style was described as imaginative realism. Memphis’s Commercial Appeal art critic Guy Northrop wrote that Mapes had a loose and airy flair. “There is a freshness to her world,” Northrop said, “and an expression of joy.”

Doris Williamson was born on June 25, 1920, in Russellville (Pope County), the only child of Floyd Henry Williamson, who was a farmer, and Ruby Harvill Williamson. Her interest in art began at an early age with her father’s regular purchase of the Denver Post at the local train station. At age eight, she submitted a pen-and-ink drawing to the newspaper’s “Artist of the Month” contest in the children’s section and won the first-place prize of ten dollars. She continued to study art throughout her youth under the guidance of artists Norma Hobbs and Norma Faulkner of Russellville and Imogene Ragon of Clarksville (Johnson County). In 1939, she attended Little Rock Junior College (now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock), from which she earned an associate’s degree, and later Hendrix College in Conway (Faulkner County).

In 1941, she married Evert Eugene Mapes from Fort Smith (Sebastian County), a certified public accountant, and they moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County). They had one daughter.

Mapes also studied watercolor with John Pike and Edgar A. Whitney and completed the Rex Brandt School of Painting program in California, earning a certificate. In the 1960s, Mapes studied design and encaustic painting under Townsend Wolfe at the Arkansas Arts Center (now the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts) and advanced painting with Edwin Brewer in the Adrian Brewer Studio. In 1970, Mapes, along with four other artists, founded and incorporated the Mid-Southern Watercolorists (MSW) in Little Rock. Mapes was elected as the organization’s founding president and served until 1972.

Over much of her long career, Mapes taught hundreds of students in art classes and workshops throughout the region. For twenty years, she taught at the Dansarts School in Little Rock, Mississippi County Community College (now Arkansas Northeastern College) in Blytheville (Mississippi County), and the Bella Vista Fine Arts Center. Many of her students, such as Selma Blackburn, became well-known artists.

In 1991, while he was in Little Rock recuperating from surgery, U.S. senator David Pryor telephoned Mapes to arrange private lessons for his wife, Barbara. Mapes recalled saying, “David, I teach groups. I don’t give individual lessons.” “Alright then,” Pryor replied, “I’ll come, too.” Both Pryors showed up at Mapes’s home the next day, and lessons continued until the senator returned to Washington DC. The Pryors sponsored a series of shows featuring Arkansas artists in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington DC, and Mapes was represented in three of the shows. In January 1993, Mapes attended the inauguration of President William Jefferson Clinton; she later painted one of her best-known pieces, Man from Hope, depicting the presidential oath of office ceremony.

Mapes’s works are held in more than 400 public and private collections. Two pieces, White River Cottage and Lakeside Lilies, both watercolor on paper, are in the permanent collection of the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts. During Clinton’s presidency, Lakeside Lilies, one of Hillary Clinton’s favorite paintings, was loaned to and displayed in the White House. For a while following his term in office, the loan was extended, and the painting hung in the Clintons’ New York home.

Mapes’s paintings have been jury selected in many national and regional exhibitions, including the American Watercolor Society Exhibition, the National League of American Pen Women art gallery, the Delta Art Exhibition, Southwestern Watercolor Society, Watercolor U.S.A., and the Mid-Southern Watercolorists Exhibition. Mapes has held more than forty solo shows throughout the country and has had her biography listed in Who’s Who in American Art, Women Artists in America, Artists U.S.A., Who’s Who of American Women, Revue des Beaux Arts, and Arkansas Lives. Mapes served for two terms as chairperson of the Arkansas State Festival of the Arts and was a member and promoter of the Arkansas Arts Center.

In 2011, at age ninety-one, Mapes had two paintings juried into the Mid-Southern Watercolorists Fall Exhibition at the South Arkansas Art Center in El Dorado (Union County). That same year, she held one of her largest solo shows, titled “Celebrating over Fifty Years of Painting,” at Louie’s Gallery in Little Rock.

Mapes continued painting until the last days of her life. She died in Little Rock on November 20, 2013, and is buried at Pinecrest Memorial Park in Alexander (Pulaski and Saline counties).

For additional information:
Doris Williamson Mapes Materials. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Pierce, Susan. “Artist is Expressive in Frame of Existence.” Arkansas Democrat, February 5, 1989. High Profile Section, pp. 3, 9.

———. “Color It Silver.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 8, 1995, p. 1F.

———. “Watercolors with Southern Accent.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 6, 1994, p. 1E.

Thomas A. Teeter
Little Rock, Arkansas


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