RAM Artist Spotlight: Margaret Speer Carter

Julie Moncrief
Fort Smith Regional Art Museum
Margaret Speer Carter

The lithe and towering Margaret Speer Carter is asked to stand next to a painting in progress and pose with paintbrush in hand. This is somewhat awkward to her because the painting is dry, awaiting its next phase.

To Carter, art is a serious and honest business. She begins to explain what has taken place so far with the painting: A dark universe with bursts of bright coral, swirling, sparkling and exuding trails of a multitude of other colors.

Flick, dab, tap, rub, pour, smooth ... these are some techniques she describes as she hovers in front of her creation.

In 50 years, Carter has created some 500 to 600 paintings. Her art has graced galleries nationwide. She began art after college.

“I wanted to study art, but my parents thought that was frivolous, so I graduated in foreign languages and history,” she says.

Many in Fort Smith remember Carter’s parents, Ralph Speer Jr. and Melanie Holt Speer. Mr. Speer worked in the Fort Smith hardware business begun in 1887 by his grandfather, Dave Speer. Mrs. Speer championed historic preservation with the purchase and restoration of the Bonneville House and Vaughn-Schaap House. The latter served as the Fort Smith Art Center from 1960 to 2009.

Carter’s hardware heritage lives on. The steel of wagon yokes and coal stoves sold by her great-grandfather has transitioned into delicate yet bold steel sculptures. Cast bronze sculpture is as much a love of hers as painting.

Her favorite is a figure entitled “Woman of Authority.”

“It had to do with the women’s liberation,” Carter says, “specifically, about women being responsible for themselves and not blaming the men for all the problems in their life ... taking the responsibility that comes with the freedom.”

Every piece of her art has originated from a feeling or theme she wanted to communicate. “The important themes of humanity are what I draw ideas from,” she says.

On RAM’s grounds is a sculpture entitled “Mother and Son,” given by Carter in 1996 in honor of then-Fort Smith Art Center Director Polly Crews and in memory of Crews’ son, Stuart.

“You see that they are standing close, but there is a tension between them,” she says. “Something in it is similar to the old ’farmer and his wife’ painting — absolute love coupled with tension, the parent having to be lord and master but not really liking the role. All of those things a good parent does.”

A theme of National Arts and Humanities Month (October) is “Arts Create Hope.” RAM is asking people through social media, “How #ArtsCreateHope for you,” and we asked Carter as well.

“Really, it’s almost the reverse,” she says, thoughtfully. “I hope, and then I paint. And I hope what I paint is meaningful to somebody.”

For the viewer, she says, “Art can be comforting, inspiring, calming. I try to make my art uplifting or beneficial to you in some way. What you surround yourself with throughout your life really does have an effect on you. So I’ve always wanted my work to be attractive, but also healing.”

Carter is a Fort Smith treasure. RAM looks forward to helping share more of her art, knowledge and talent.

This column is produced by the River Valley Arts Coalition, whose mission is to inform citizens and visitors of the available fine art exhibition and education opportunities in Fort Smith and surrounding region. We also want to tell the stories of the people who make the local art scene such a vibrant and important part of our community. To send comments or for more information on the River Valley Arts Coalition, contact suzie@fsram.org.

Fort Smith Regional Art Museum

1601 Rogers Ave., Fort Smith

(479) 784-2787


• “Billie Holiday at Sugar Hill: Photographs by Jerry Dantzic”: On view through Dec. 27; this exhibit is organized by Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibits and made possible through a grant from the Anna Cohn Community Fund.

• “Behind the Scenes: Billie Holiday Performing at Sugar Hill, Photographs by Jerry Dantzic”: Free lecture by the photographer’s son, Grayson Dantzic; Thursday at 7 p.m., registration required.

• “Attention to Tension: Suzannah Schreckhise”: On view through Jan. 31.

• RAM Annual Invitational “Exploring Mindscapes: An Artist’s Reflection”: Submissions due Nov. 14, visit website for details.

• RAM Saturday: Available on RAM’s YouTube Channel, registration required.

• RAM Homeschool: Registration required. “Music as an Art Prompt” for ages 6-11; “Studio Art” for ages 12-18.

• “Curator Corner”: Monthly curatorial interview by assistant curator Samantha Rhodes about a different piece in RAM’s permanent collection.

• “COLOR for Creatives”: Zoom class, every Thursday at 6 p.m. through May 18, registration required.

• Lecture Live Thursdays: Online lectures every other Thursday at 7 p.m., registration required.

• Visit RAM’s website to see video tours and listen to podcast interviews by various artists.

Center for Art & Education

104 North 13th Street, Van Buren

(479) 474-7767


Gallery admission is always free.

• “Society of Printmakers Exhibition”: On view through Friday.

• “Drinks and Draw” with Amy at Chapters on Main Street in Van Buren; free admission, every Thursday in October.

• Homeschool Art Classes: Mondays through Nov. 9, 1-3:30 p.m.; registration required.

• After School Art Classes: Mondays through Nov. 9, 4-5:30 p.m.; registration required.

• 12 Art Activities and Lessons to Try at Home: Free, visit CAE website for details.

• Stephen Holmes Carving Demonstration: Thursday, Nov. 12.

• Visit CAE’s website to see virtual tours, artist demonstrations, community events and projects created in the “At Home Summer Art Camp” album.

"Woman of Authority," by Margaret Speer Carter.