Portrait of a Meaningful Life

By Amber Mabe

“Life, like love, is just a journey. Every decision we face is a crossroads, and each path we choose will change our lives forever. Some roads lead to joy, and some lead to sorrow; some bring us hardship, and others, peace.”

These words, penned by Richard Hedgecock, owner of Hedgecock’s Custom Framing, perfectly surmise a life filled with love, adventure, creativity, and community. His has been a life of unique experiences in far off places, expertly framed by the peace and stability of a small town. Many of his paintings, beloved by the community and beyond, draw from Richard’s own experiences and portray the everyday beauty of life in North Carolina’s Piedmont region. 

A native of the Kernersville area, Richard spent his childhood immersed in nature, living a simple life that greatly influenced his future works. The love of art came early for Richard, leading him to pursue a degree in art from East Carolina University. Though he majored in sculpture, his minor, painting, became a passion that would last a lifetime. When the Vietnam War necessitated a hiatus from graduate school in order to serve overseas, he was fortunate to spend his enlisted years in Europe, surrounded by timeless works of art. The culture, experiences, and people he met along the way became a part of Richard as he served his country overseas. After returning home, Richard spent weeks on a life changing driving tour of the United States, soaking in scenery, fellowshipping with friends, and meeting memorable characters along the way. It was experiences like these that became a catalyst for the art that Richard would one day produce. “We become aware of our sameness and at the same time our uniqueness,” Richard says in his memoir, After Five: What’s Another Dog?  “Some of us need to travel to expand our horizons, while others are content to plant our seeds in the same spot year after year, but we are all searching for something to share.”

Richard found that “something to share” in his art, and in meeting the needs of his community in the decades to come. After returning to school and receiving a teaching certificate, Richard dedicated the next several years to teaching art in a local high school. Since returning from overseas, he had also met the woman who was to be the great love of his life and the muse for countless paintings, Penny. Her passion for rescuing animals and Richard’s passion for art molded together into a beautiful theme of heartfelt moments captured on canvas that have spanned the decades of their life together. From peaceful memories of bottle-feeding newborn kittens in “Surrogates” to the majestic beauty of Penny’s horse, Sabra, to portraits of the dozens of animals who came and went from Richard and Penny’s lives, his paintings tell a story of love and compassion for the animals that have meant so much to them over the years. In fact, one such rescue has become a familiar face around the shop. Ever since her determination to follow Richard to work led her to jump two fences and follow his vehicle almost to the highway, Mary Florence Elizabeth Philomena Morris Hedgecock, also known as Mary the dog has been happy to spend her days greeting customers at Hedgecock Framing Studio. Named after Richard’s mother, her sweet and calm demeaner invites you to give her a pat on the head when you walk through the front door. 

It was nearly 45 years ago when Richard opened his custom framing shop in an old five and dime building in the heart of downtown Kernersville, but that shop has since become a landmark of the community. “I want to thank the people that have trusted us with their framing for almost half a century,” says Richard, who believes the key to making a difference in a community is to see a need and fill that need in whatever way you can. Assisted for the last 35 years by fellow artist, Corby Eisbacher, Richard considers him “the best framer in North Carolina and probably a better artist” than himself. Richard and Corby have been a good team, complimenting each other’s’ skills and framing Kernersville all these years. Hedgecock Framing Studio has preserved family photos, custom framed memorabilia, fulfilled special commissions and more as the town of Kernersville grew and changed around it. “An endless stream of interesting customers, fascinating stories, and even a family of ducks that waddled in through my front door, have all reaffirmed my belief that we can’t lead worthwhile lives with only tunnel vision: it’s what’s in the periphery that makes our journeys worth the effort,” writes Richard. 

In recent years, as a battle with illness has caused Richard to need to take a more passive role in the business, he reflects that his role in the community has begun to come full circle. A reviving local interest in arts and crafts has given birth to a series of painting classes led by Richard in his framing studio. He hopes that his passion for art will come through to his students and enable them to share their own stories through art as he has. The classes cover watercolor, acrylic, and oil painting, and are followed by an art exhibition of the students’ works. Regardless of what the future holds for Richard and Hedgecock Framing Studio, he hopes the painting classes will remain as an opportunity to continue to serve the community that has meant so much to him. “Kernersville is wonderful because it was a small town that would give someone the opportunity to open a small business and have a chance at surviving,” Richard says. Though he has watched the town bloom and grow over the last several decades, Richard says Kernersville still has the same heart that has always made it unique. “A lot of things that you don’t expect to happen still happen in this community, and that to me is just extremely special,” Richard says as he reflects on the kindness and outpouring of support he has received over the years, particularly as he has fought his current battle with cancer. “I’m thankful to the community from the bottom of my heart.”

Whether it be depictions of local landmarks and home places, commissioned portraits of treasured pets, pastoral North Carolina landscapes, or portraits of the colorful people who have called Kernersville home throughout the years, Richard’s work will remain as a vibrant local history as seen through the eyes of a man who loves his hometown and is loved in return. Every day that Richard is able to continue his passion and service to the community is a day he considers himself blessed. 

Consider stopping by the shop and gallery at 105 N. Main Street or immerse yourself in the pictorial memoir of his life and works entitled After Five: What’s Another Dog? available on Kindle, and perhaps you will be inspired to take a moment to treasure the unique people and experiences that make up the portrait of your own life. For more information about Richard’s art classes, framing services, artwork and gallery please call 336-996-5211.

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