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My First Brush With Art

Ray Reynolds

Sarah Segrest taught generations of students 7th grade English and Holmes County French. She was also the first touch of culture that came into the young lives of many of us country kids.

At the rear of her room she had a display space for her flower arrangements, usually featuring camellias in the winter from her garden. She was also an artist, and an ever-changing exhibition of her paintings lined the walls. Plus, she had an air conditioner in her classroom when no one else did — no small attraction in the heart and the heat of the Florida Panhandle.

Pictured is the oil canvas painting called, “Twilight Rabbit Hill Farm” painted by Nancy R. Thomas.

Mrs. Segrest was just the right combination of nurturing and challenging for 7th graders, no longer in elementary school but not quite teenagers yet. When we got to 9th grade and had her again for French class, her elevated aesthetic sensibilities became ever more obvious. French! With a southern accent.

"Sunday" by Ric Haynes is part of the "Hope" exhibit at Cotuit Center for the Arts.

By the time I had an opportunity to try out my French in France, I had also moved to Chicago, far from home. As I got more interested in art, I thought of Mrs. Segrest, and wrote to her asking if I could visit on my next trip back home and possibly acquire one of her paintings.

A close up of one of the floral exhibits from Art in Bloom at Evansville Museum.

And so I did. She and her husband, Dr. Ralph Segrest, lived just south of downtown Bonifay in a secluded woodland thick with hundreds of camellia bushes, where she’d often taken her classes for field trips. Their home was filled with her paintings. I especially liked a still life of watermelons she had just finished.

“Well, you may not want to pay what my teacher says it’s worth,” she warned me: $100.

It was my first original oil painting, and the subject matter made it a perfect way to remember her and home.

I had also been attracted to an earlier painting of persimmons — especially after she said that another favorite teacher, Mrs. Elizabeth Gavin, who taught 10th grade biology, had brought her those persimmons. As I wrote the check and claimed my prize, Mrs. Segrest took the canvasboard with the persimmon painting on it and tucked it unnoticeably inside the back of the framed watermelon painting. “Dr. Segrest doesn’t like me to give them away,” she whispered.

A few years later, as the art bug was taking hold, I went to see Mrs. Segrest again on another trip back home and asked if I might buy one of her paintings as a Christmas gift for my mother. She suggested an oval of red roses. After mother died, I reclaimed it for myself — and now it reminds me of them both.

Ray Reynolds, who grew up in Esto, has owned an art gallery in California for 25 years ( He credits Mrs. Segrest with inspiring his interest in art.