By Rebekah Martin
Opelika artist Tom Woodward was born in 1949. Woodward’s sister, Kathy Gilmore, said he was often reprimanded as a child by his teachers for wasting too much paper with his drawings.
When Woodward passed away in 2014, family members and high school friends decided to commemorate his life and legacy in a way that was representative of him as a person, and so the Tom Woodward Scholarship in the Visual Arts was born. Sponsored by the East Alabama Arts Association, the scholarship will be awarded annually to a high school senior in Lee County who plans to continue his or her education in some facet of the fine arts. The first scholarship will be awarded this May. In an effort to raise the necessary funds, the East Alabama Arts Association will hold an exhibition and sale of the works of Tom Woodward at the Cultural Arts Center of East Alabama in Opelika Jan. 24.
Woodward graduated from Opelika High School in 1967 and enrolled at Auburn University that fall, majoring in visual design. As a sophomore, Woodward was involved in a car accident that put him in a wheelchair. As a result, he became a virtual quadriplegic, with no use of his legs or hands and very limited function and control of his arms.
A self-taught artist from an early age, Woodward did not let being wheelchair-bound slow down his life or career. He became an accomplished artist, winning awards and competitions throughout the Southeast. Gilmore said she never heard a complaint from her brother. “Tom never really wanted to emphasize his disability,” Gilmore said. “The emphasis was on his work. He wanted the art to be appreciated for art.”
Classmate and lifelong friend Jack Swarthout was one of the people involved in the startup of the scholarship.
“I’d known Tom since I was a junior in high school: we were neighbors and classmates, and we even grew up double dating together and continued to be friends all our lives,” Swarthout said. “I always admired Tom for his perseverance with the way he overcame the adversities he faced. I just felt like his life was one that needed to be remembered.”
There is no cost to attend the exhibition, and it is open to the public. Katy Floyd, board member of the East Alabama Arts Association, said the event will begin at 5 p.m. and will feature a tribute to Woodward to begin at 6 p.m.
“We will have a good range of his work on display,” Floyd said. “Everything from nudes to landscapes to still life drawings. One of the things that is exciting to me is that when people come, if they don’t know his work or even didn’t know him as a person, I think they’re really going to know something about his life and career by simply looking at the images.”
The Cultural Arts Center of East Alabama is located at 1103 Glenn St. in Opelika. For more information, visit www.eastalabamaarts.org.