Art came naturally to Margaret Mattox as a child. She sold her first painting—of a clown—to her third-grade teacher for $30. It was Mattox’s interpretation of an old paint-by-number image she’d found, and she felt rich and appreciated.
In high school, she attended the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts when it was a summer program, then enrolled at Wake Forest University, where she majored in psychology and minored in studio art. When she moved back to her native Charleston after college, she painted on the side, including a mural of a Charleston “single” (a long and skinny house) for the Historic Charleston Foundation. That led to a sponsorship for the Art Walk in the French Quarter and ultimately a solo show.
But then “art went by the wayside,” she said. She and her husband moved to Missouri, where he attended graduate school, and before long they had three young daughters. One day while waiting in her car outside their preschool, Mattox was drawing. Another mom noticed and asked if Mattox could draw a portrait of her son. “I said ‘I think so’ and it turned out really well,” said Mattox. “I sold it for $150. She loved it and told everybody.” Mattox also got commissions through a local children’s boutique, where people could drop off photos for her to use. “I would set the paper on the bar and draw as I did my housework, a little at a time, in the middle of the house up high while my kids were running around like wild animals,” she said. Over a couple of years, she completed about 35 pencil portraits.
The family relocated to Anderson from Charleston in 2015; here they enjoy the slower pace and lower cost of living. In addition to pencil drawings, Mattox also works in oil and has recently moved into pastels. “I was tired of black and white,” she said. “Pastels have this immediate burst of color. It’s a quick process and easily correctible.” The only difficulty involves their presentation. “Framing is intimidating,” she said. “Pastels are an extremely delicate final product to manage.” She deals with that by ordering frames online that she assembles herself.
One of her favorite subjects is ocean waves. “I love the complexity of the foam and the coloring and layering,” she said. She was also greatly inspired by her time in Albania, where she adopted her fourth daughter in 2017. “Albania is the poorest country in Europe,” she said. “I saw the beauty of the people and the place but that it struggles under the legacy of Communism that mars the beauty and obscures it. That animated my artistic side. I love to paint in a way that what might at first glance be ugly is beautiful. That’s the material I’m drawn toward. I want my art to be redemptive in some way.”