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Piedmont grad returns to hometown for art show

Kristen Vails says a lot of her upbringing was spent on horseback and now the Piedmont native is returning to her hometown with an art show that draws inspiration from her love of horses.

Vails’ paintings will be on display at the Red Dirt Artists Gallery beginning with a reception on Feb. 4 from 6 to 9 p.m. The gallery is located just south of Piedmont at 13100 Colony Pointe Boulevard off Northwest Expressway. The reception is free to the public and Vails said she is looking forward to showcasing her talent in the community she grew up in.

Kristen Vails graduated from Piedmont High School in 2002 and now works as the executive director of the Plaza District in Oklahoma City. She is also an artist and will be featured at the Red Dirt Artists Gallery near Piedmont next month. (Ben Felder)

“I was just really excited that (there was an art gallery) in Piedmont,” Vails said. “I wanted to do something that would offer people that live on the north side of Oklahoma City or in Piedmont to see my work.”

Vails spent the majority of her childhood in Piedmont and graduated from Piedmont High School in 2002. After attending art school at the University of Oklahoma, she worked at the Firehouse Art Center in Norman before becoming the executive director of the Plaza District in Oklahoma City in 2008.

Much of her work depicts horses and Vails says “painting the horse in various natural instances can carry a different meaning when human emotions are conveyed.” With such a strong equestrian community in Piedmont, Vails is hoping her work will be well received in her hometown.

Artistic Journey

Besides riding her horse and participating in sports while in Piedmont, Vails also spent time working on her art. Despite Piedmont not having a large artistic community at the time, Vails credits her parents for encouraging her to explore her passion for painting.

“When I went to OU it was a little bit of culture shock (after) being in Piedmont, there wasn’t that much exposure to the arts,” Vails said. “Luckily my parents were very accepting in acknowledging the talent that I had. I had never seen abstract art or conceptual art…so I felt a lot of pressure to make art like that (when I got to college).”

Vails originally felt her paintings of horses were too cliché and she attempted to branch out, but by her senior year in college she finally embraced what she truly loved, which was painting horses.

“A lot of my background growing up was on horses,” Vails said. “I paint realistic images of horses with abstract background,” and she considers her work to be contemporary art with country and western roots.

“After being there for a few years and seeing everybody’s work…I just realized I could be true to myself.”

Building Community

Vails loved art but knew she didn’t want to make it her full time career. Her experience and interest in the non-profit sector led her to an urban neighborhood in Oklahoma City called the Plaza District, which was experiencing the beginning stages of a revitalization effort. Vails became the executive director for the neighborhood association and has seen the community become an established business and entertainment district.

“I had never heard of the (Plaza District),” Vails said. “I came down to the district and it was almost like it was a blank slate.”

Over the next four years Vails has overseen a transformation of the business district located on 16th Street in midtown Oklahoma City. The neighborhood features over 30 businesses, including independent clothing stores, a wine shop, tattoo parlor and the Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma.

“It’s really exciting to show people how far the Plaza District has come in the last few years,” Vails said.

Vails said she has enjoyed her role in helping create a sense of community in the Plaza District and, as a resident of the neighborhood herself; she enjoys the walkablity it offers and the proximity to a variety of shops and services. In fact, part of the walk-friendliness of the neighborhood reminds her of growing up in Piedmont.

“I grew up right in the middle of Piedmont…I remember being able to walk to Wiedemann’s and grab a soda and being able to walk to Founder’s Day,” Vails said. “I think that’s what I appreciate about (being) here is that I can walk to this district. I can remember that being something that I liked about where I lived (in Piedmont).”

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