Dowagiac artist profiled for annual celebration

(Submitted photo)

(Submitted photo)

It would be a toss-up as to whether O’Larry Collins is more representative of Black History Month, or it’s his tremendous amount of artwork featuring prominent musicians, athletics and political figures.

Southwest Michigan residents can decide for themselves when they visit Collins in his recently opened studio/gallery in downtown Dowagiac every weekend through February.

Actually meeting and talking to visitors, while they scan the brick walls hung with wood-burned scenes and portraits, is one of Collins’ pleasures.

“The customers feel like I do … they understand my work and me,” Collins said. “You put a lot of yourself in your work. They take a piece of you home with them.”

At one time, he had a hard time selling his work until one old man’s delight in acquiring his piece depicting a duck led him to accept his favorite was finding a good home.

“He returned each year to my show in Kalamazoo,” Collins said. “If they love it like I do, they will take care of it.”

Collins’ art shows have been featured throughout the region through the years, with he receiving best of show ribbons and many return purchasers. Recently he showed his work at an event at the Underground Railroad house in Cassopolis on M-62.

For its boardroom, Cassopolis Family Clinic bought his wood-burned works depicting the old Cass County Courthouse and other area landmarks. When they wanted to put their logo of a family holding hands on the main entrance wall, Collins did the impressive piece himself, fabricating it from metal.

All of Collins’ loves have combined in his life. His wife of almost 40 years, Mildred, was the inspiration for their successful Creekside Greenhouse, on Pokagon Street in Dowagiac.

“She was working in a greenhouse,” he said. “When she discovered the miracle of a seed sprouting roots. She was hooked and through the next 18 years their business, across the road from their home, has continued to grow. The work keeps us in shape.”

With a backdrop of hanging baskets full of color and soft jazz or blues playing, they can also be found often relaxing with “a good glass of wine” with friends or some of their many relatives. Collins is the fourth in a family of eight boys and three girls, originally from Rolling Fork, Mississippi.

Another dream became a reality last summer with Collins building a stage out back by the creek, perfect for gatherings near a bonfire.

In his studio next to the greenhouse, Collins had a place to store another love, vintage clothes, especially suits, ties and hats. Now moved to his shop next to the gazebo downtown, they contributed to the name Art enah Suit.

“I have loved clothes all my life and loved design,” Collins said. He enjoys shopping with his mother. “She has excellent taste.”

When Collins is making sure the seniors at Cedar Sands Apartments are happy, as their maintenance man, he usually wears striped bibs. He can also be found in a chef’s hat at his brother Earl’s BBQ, which he helped open last year.

But art has been a passion since he was about nine, when he began drawing. Seeing a wood burned picture once, he was determined to find out how he could do that. Often he copies old pictures from magazines or books. His camera has helped him make “time stand still; capturing light and shadows.”

“I like people with character in their faces — like a great-grandmother,” he said. He just finished one of BB King and will soon be starting another montage featuring key fighters Lewis, Ali and Jack Johnson.

Collins greets visitors at his shop every Friday and Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. He also does matting and framing at 135 Front St., Dowagiac.

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