By Laura McAlister
When Rollina Oglesbay was a little girl, she entered a contest to receive free art lessons.
She didn’t win, but her sketch impressed the judges enough to pay her a personal visit to encourage her to take art classes.
“Someone came to the door and told my mother that I was real talented,” Rollina said. “If she’d pay $50, I could get lessons.
“Mom said I wasn’t that talented. That was a lot of money back then.”
That was some 70 years ago. Rollina wasn’t deterred, though. Inspired by family and friends, she continued to sketch, sculpt and paint, and on her 80th birthday, a show of her work throughout the decades opened at Artists on the Bluff in Hoover.
Some 100 pieces were displayed, many depicting the true loves of her life – her family.
Much of Rollina’s work throughout the years is of people in her life. Whether it’s a sculpture of one of her four sons, charcoal sketches of her eight grandchildren or paintings of family pets, most of her work is related to her family.
A favorite piece is a pastel sketch of a profile of her son Dan and his daughter Anita. It’s a simple piece that Rollina named “Profile of Love.”
“It’s one of my favorites,” she said. “Their foreheads are just touching. It’s very hard to make something simple.”
Although she’s always had an aptitude for the arts, it wasn’t until her oldest son turned 5 that Rollina really began to take her work seriously.
She started with portraits while she was teaching, a career her mother encouraged her to pursue.
Being a practical woman, Rollina’s mother told her she also needed a “real” job” in addition to her art, Rollina said, laughing.
“I took some high school art classes, and I really wanted to go to college to study art and drama,” she said. “Mom was fine with my art, but she told me I also had to make a living. So, I became a kindergarten teacher.”
The Wichita, Kan., native got a degree in teaching and even went on to get a master’s degree in kindergarten education.
While teaching kindergarten, she would sketch her students during rest time. Rollina quit teaching to become a full-time mom, which in the end allowed her time to perfect her artistic abilities.
When her oldest son turned 5, she purchased an instructional book on portraits. She sketched each of her children when they were 5. She began taking classes when she could and moved from sketches to elaborate oil paintings and clay sculptures.
Once her children were grown, Rollina went back to teaching. This time, it wasn’t kindergarten. Rollina’s been teaching art for 25 years and still teaches at the Birmingham Museum of Art and other venues in the Birmingham area.
“I’m really proud of my students,” she said. “Some have been accepted in shows and won awards. I had one win first place and best of show at the (local chapter of theAmerican Society of) Pen Women Show.”
Rollina also has won her share of honors throughout the years.
As a member of the Hoover, Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills art associations and the Pen Women, her work is well known in the Over the Mountain art community.
To Rollina, however, her art was never about winning prizes or getting noticed. She just enjoyed capturing a moment and looking at things differently.
While others might pick up a book or a magazine during their spare time, Rollina would reach for a sketch pad.
“When I go on trips, I have a small pad I take with me to do sketches,” she said. “I don’t take as many pictures as I make sketches.”
One example is her drawing of President Jimmy Carter.
“That was in Georgia, and he was teaching a Sunday school class,” she said of the pencil sketch. “I was supposed to be taking notes, but I was really sketching him.”
While Rollina has done a few landscapes in her long career, people are definitely her passion. She’s even done a few self-portraits. In one, she’s wearing a white summer dress.
“I was at church that day, and someone said, you need to paint yourself in that, so I did,” she said.
Another was from a class she was taking at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Until her exhibit at Artists on the Bluff, the painting had only left her home once for her class.
“The last thing we had to do was make a picture of ourselves as nude as we felt comfortable,” Rollina said. “So I put a mirror behind me and painted my back. This is only the second time this one’s been out of my house.”
While most of the 100 pieces from Rollina’s show at Artists on the Bluff have been returned to their owners – many of them Rollina’s family members – she said some would remain in the building to add to the permanent collection there.