CARTHAGE, Mo. -- There are several identities that Sarah Huntley likes to claim: wife, mother, artist.

"They're all me," said the mom of three, "but being an artist is a hat I like to wear, too."

Huntley's works are featured in an exhibit this month at artCentral titled "Progressive Mothers of Rural America." Other featured works have been submitted by Helen Kunze and Kristin Huke, women who, like Huntley, are moms and wives belonging to the Drawn Together Art Studio in Carthage.

Kunze said the word "progressive" in the exhibit's title, which was suggested to the Drawn Together women last year by an artist showing at a fair in Kansas City, refers to the women pursuing their passion despite the responsibilities and obligations they face as wives and mothers.

"I don't think we're using it in a political sense, (but) more in an art way," she said. "It's just a moving forward for us, I think. We're going for it."

Art background

Kunze, a yoga instructor, comes from an art background; she attended art school in Minneapolis and has 12 years of experience as a freelance illustrator in the Midwest. But after her two children arrived -- they're now aged 18 and 13 -- she said her illustration work stopped altogether as she adjusted to motherhood.

Her creativity picked up again when she joined the Drawn Together studio and started exploring oil painting. She said her best work now comes when she is able to get out of the house to the studio, where she can focus solely on the canvas in front of her. Much of her inspiration is drawn from what she sees around her, and many of the paintings she will show in the exhibit are derived from photographs she has taken on her annual trips to Florida.

Balance

Huke has a variety of pieces in the show: paintings with bold and bright colors, a few pet portraits and several lamps that she has created out of repurposed and recycled materials. She draws a lot on her 18-year background in graphic design as well as her love of color and contrast.

Huke, the mother of a 17- and 13-year-old, said it can be difficult to balance being a mom with being an artist, particularly during the summer months, when she tries to take advantage of her sons' freedom from school by spending time with them. But she considers herself lucky not only to have a support group of other mother-artists at the Drawn Together studio but to also have the support within her family to be able to devote time to art.

"It's really important, and a lot of the time (when) I'll start getting edgy about something, my husband is like, 'When was the last time you got to the studio?'" she said. "That creative side kind of always has to come out."

Staying true

Huntley said she fell in love with art as a young child growing up in Carthage under the guidance of her brother, who is 11 years older and also an artist. She pursued her passion at Missouri Southern State University, earning a degree in fine arts, and she currently teaches art at St. Ann's Catholic School one day per week.

But once she had children, she found it more difficult to keep up with her hobby. In her family's former home, her work studio had been shoved into the laundry room; in their current residence, she was attempting to work at the kitchen table. When she found the Drawn Together studio, she seized the opportunity to tap into her inner artist once again.

Huntley said the work she has on display in the exhibit includes pieces in water color, her first love, as well as pieces in oil and acrylic, media she picked up through her time at the studio. Her biggest source of inspiration is her children, and her youngest, a kindergartner, appears in much of her work.

"I find her very inspiring -- she's just having so much fun living life," she said.

Huntley said art has become a way for her to express herself and stay true to who she is. She said she is not only a mom of three or Mr. Huntley's wife, although those are part of her identity; she is also Sarah, the artist.

"I've been a stay-at-home mom for 15 years, but it does not mean that you lose yourself," she said. "This is a way that I can keep myself and still have a voice. It's like I have an alter ego, but it's actually myself."

Also on display as part of the exhibit will be some of the collaborative paintings that the Drawn Together women have hosted at their studio. Huntley said these paintings are "a little more abstract," as they are the result of members of the general public leaving their marks on an open canvas during previous Carthage Art Walks.

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Emily Younker is the assistant metro editor at the Joplin Globe. Contact: eyounker AT joplinglobe DOT com.