Imogene McConnell Ragon (1887–1980)
Imogene McConnell Ragon was a well-known twentieth-century Arkansas educator and plein air (outdoor) artist. Her paintings have been exhibited throughout Arkansas and nationally. Today, she is best remembered for her watercolors of native wildflowers and landscapes, and her architectural renderings of historic buildings all around Arkansas and the Ozark Mountains. The dogwood and the magnolia are among her most popular subjects.
Imogene McConnell was born on May 21, 1887, in Clarksville (Johnson County) into the pioneer family of Edward Taylor McConnell and Alice Adele Porter McConnell. She was the third of four children. In 1894, when she was six years old, her father was appointed superintendent of the Arkansas prison by Governor William Meade Fishback. The family moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County), where they lived for the next eight years. Following his tenure as superintendent, the McConnells returned to their Clarksville home, known today as the Edward Taylor McConnell House. The McConnell House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
McConnell began painting watercolors at an early age while in Little Rock’s public schools. Later, she attended the College of the Ozarks (now the University of the Ozarks) and the St. Louis School of Fine Arts. A lifelong student of art, she studied with many American watercolor masters such as John Pike in New York, Eliot O’Hara in Maine, Emile Gruppe in Massachusetts, and Robert Brackman in Connecticut.
On July 18, 1911, she married William A. Ragon. The Ragons built a home across the street from her parents in Clarksville and raised two children there. Afterward, the Ragons lived for eleven years in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) and in St. Louis, Missouri, before returning to Clarksville.
Ragon kept an art studio overlooking the Ozark Mountains in the Harmony community north of Clarksville. She found artistic inspiration in the environs of the Arkansas River Valley. Ragon created a collection of paintings of more than 300 wildflowers, all from nature. One of her best-known architectural pieces was a painting of the Potts Home in Pottsville (Pope County), which once served as a Butterfield’s Overland Mail Company stagecoach stop and later became a museum. The October 1958 issue of Ford Times, a monthly magazine produced by Ford Motor Company, featured Ragon’s paintings of a large barn at War Eagle (Benton County) and Burns Gables located atop Mount Gaylor in the Boston Mountains near Winslow (Washington County).
Ragon was a longtime educator at the University of the Ozarks, lecturing there from 1911 to 1929 and again between 1947 and 1955. In 1947, she founded the institution’s art department. Upon her retirement, the campus art gallery and the Imogene Ragon Memorial Art Award at the University of the Ozarks were named in her honor. Throughout her career, Ragon also taught private lessons in Clarksville and around Arkansas as well as in St. Louis.
In 1972, the Dobson Memorial Library at the University of the Ozarks produced a slide and audio program about Ragon’s life and paintings. Titled “Painter of the Ozarks,” the presentation included more than 100 paintings of Arkansas wildflowers and landscapes, quotations on her watercolor painting techniques, and selections from her other works.
Ragon traveled all over the United States throughout her life, painting and exhibiting her work. Her art was exhibited at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is considered one of the top museums in the United States; the Arkansas Arts Center; the Miami Art Museum; and the Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, Tennessee. Ragon also participated in art shows in New York City and in St. Louis as a member of the Society of Independent Artists. Ragon won many honors for both oils and watercolors.
Ragon died on November 10, 1980, and is buried at Oakland Memorial Cemetery in Clarksville. Today, her art can be found in numerous museums, private collections, and businesses across Arkansas. The University of the Ozarks holds a large and diverse collection of Ragon’s works displayed in the Stephens Art Gallery at the Walton Fine Arts Center. The Rogers Historical Museum has Ragon’s watercolor War Eagle Store. The Little Rock Dermatology Clinic has an extensive collection of her architectural paintings, including Old State House. In 2009, Ragon’s art was included in a retrospective of Arkansas artists held at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR); the university’s permanent collection also has several pieces of her art.
For additional information:
Dean, Ernie. “Clarksville Artist Finds Inspiration in Familiar Sights.” Arkansas Gazette, April 7, 1961, p. 1B.
“Subjects Come from Nature for Native Artist at Clarksville.”Arkansas Gazette, February 8, 1959, p. 2E.
Weatherton, Anna Joe. “A Tribute to the ‘Painter of the Ozarks.’” Graphic (Clarksville, AR), July 20, 1972, p. 10.
Thomas A. Teeter
Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated: 11/16/2018