Sheila Holland Cotton (1947–)
Sheila Holland Cotton is an artist noted for her richly painted oils embracing the visual experience of Arkansas. Her scenes of agricultural and rural landscapes give a sense of isolation and mournfulness yet remain celebratory. The mysticism in Cotton’s art links her to the modern school of Magic Realism and the legacy of artists Carroll Cloar and Al Allen Jr. of twentieth-century Arkansas.
Sheila Holland was born on May 13, 1947, in Morrilton (Conway County). She was the only child of Edward William Holland and Madeline Oliver Holland. Both her parents came from families that settled in southern Arkansas in the 1840s. In 1950, her parents moved to North Little Rock (Pulaski County), where she grew up and attended school. Her father left his job as manager of a chain of movie theaters to pursue a career in aviation. He was appointed director of aeronautics for the state of Arkansas by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller and eventually retired from that position after having served in the administrations of five governors.
Her parents’ interest in travel and art exposed her to the important public art collections and museums of the United States. Summer schools in Paris, France, and in Mexico enriched her personal maturity and artistic thinking. Cotton attended the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), majoring in English. In 1969, she married Roger Cotton in New Orleans, Louisiana, and moved to Canada when he took a position in the department of English at Malaspina College, Vancouver Island. There, the Cottons bought a small island farm, and amid chickens and goats, vegetables and flowers, a depth of feeling for rural life developed in Cotton. The marriage ended in divorce in 1983, although Cotton kept her first husband’s name.
Following a move to New Brunswick in 1975, Cotton worked as an editor for a Canadian publishing firm but, after three years, decided her life’s passion was not in this field. Beginning to paint, she showed her initial pieces to the curator of art of the New Brunswick Museum. In 1976, the New Brunswick Museum sponsored a museum tour of twenty of her paintings in an exhibition titled People. The success of her traveling exhibition resulted in representation in galleries in Toronto, Montreal, and Atlantic Canada.
In 1984, Cotton relocated to Naples, Florida, where her parents had retired. In 1985, she married Oliver Bardes. During this period, she painted primarily Florida-inspired scenes and exhibited at the Riverside Museum in Vero Beach and at the Orlando Museum of Art. Her Florida years ended in 2005, by which time her parents had died and her husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Cotton moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 2007 and embarked on a new and intense body of work focused on the regional landscape. She concentrated on a southern agrarian environment—e.g., scarecrows, small churches, cotton fields—to elevate the ordinary into a strong symbolic presence. Early attention was drawn to her work by art journalist Ellis Widner, who, in 2007, featured Cotton in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s High Profile section. Widner described Cotton as “one of our state’s best painters” and her work as “almost surreal in intensity and infused with spirit.” Beware (2008), Pump (2018), and A Certain Shade of Pink (2020) are notable examples of her style.
Canadian museums and institutions owning Cotton’s work include the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick Museum, Confederation Centre of the Arts, and Acadia University. In Florida, her works are in the collections of the von Liebig Art Center and the Collier County Museum, both in Naples.
In Arkansas, her paintings are in corporate collections including the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Arkansas Heart Hospital, CARTI, and CHI St. Vincent Hospital, as well as numerous private collections. Her work is also displayed in the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts Foundation Collection and the South Arkansas Arts Center in El Dorado (Union County). Primary exhibitions have included a number of national juried shows hosted in Arkansas.
For additional information:
“Interview with Artist Sheila Cotton.” Arkansas Art Scene Blog, April 17, 2020, https://www.arkansasartscene.com/home/interview-with-artist-sheila-cotton/ (accessed May 4, 2021).
Sheila Cotton. https://www.sheilacottonart.com/ (accessed May 4, 2021).
Sheila Cotton Papers and Image Album Holdings. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Sheila Cotton Papers and Image Album Holdings. Archives and Research Library, New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.
Widner, Ellis. “Dombek and Cotton Shows Are Extended.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 2, 2010, pp. 1E, 6E.
———. “Sheila Holland Cotton.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 18, 2007, pp. 1D, 5D, 6D.
Philip R. Mayeux
Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated: 05/04/2021