By Lauren H. Dowdle
Photos by Mary Tweedy
The sounds of brushstrokes and worship music fill the room where Elizabeth Polland creates one of her signature pieces. A dog ornament or maybe a nativity scene comes to life before her attentive gaze—but what she’s creating is about much more than one-of-a-kind pieces of art. It’s about living out her faith and purpose.
Elizabeth has loved art for as long as she can remember, taking classes as a child and later majoring in art in college. “I’ve been painting all of my life,” she says. “I can’t remember when I wasn’t painting.”
A Mountain Brook native, Elizabeth attended Ole Miss for college before coming back to Alabama to raise a family. She called Chelsea home until recently moving to Alabaster for her sons to play football.
However, moving wasn’t the only major life change this mom of three experienced this year. She also began earnestly searching for her calling, which wasn’t something she’d really done in the past. “When I was young, I didn’t know what I wanted to do — but I also wasn’t seeking the Lord to find it,” she says.
She had been working as a paraprofessional at Mt Laurel Elementary, where she fell in love with working with children, specifically in the special education department. Her coworkers there also became more like family, creating a wonderful work environment.
Still, something tugged at her heart. Her original passion for art continued to vie for her attention until she couldn’t ignore the call anymore. The late nights and early mornings spent working on her artwork—in addition to her duties as a wife and mother—started to take its toll.
Elizabeth, along with her friends and family, began praying about how she should move forward. And they received the answer: While she loved working with children and her coworkers, that wasn’t where she was meant to be. Elizabeth resigned from her job this past year and started focusing on her art and family full time.
“I’ve wrestled with God on his plan for me. It’s hard to leave such a beautiful thing even when I have felt the nudge for God’s direction. But it wasn’t what the Lord called me to do long term. It was two full-time jobs,” she says about working at the school and on her artwork. “Painting is my calling. It’s the joy in my heart. This is my absolute ministry.”
Since making the decision, Elizabeth can hardly keep up with all of the orders she’s received and is also having a studio built at her home. She says she continues to receive confirmation and peace each day that she is focusing on the right things.
All of her artwork has a signature style she came up with a few years ago with cool colors, a lot of white and a touch of watercolor to create an impressionistic piece.
“I guess I consider my art to reflect my life: southern, God-and-country-loving, wife, mother, artist,” Elizabeth says. “I use a lot of white and ice blues and, of course, will incorporate any specific colors that someone requests. By viewing my art, you can see the signature style I have.”
Her early pieces consisted of church and cross paintings, and she later incorporated nests into her portfolio to symbolize God being a refuge. As she continued to branch out and grow to images like roses and other buildings, so did the demand for her commissioned projects. She started receiving orders from Spain and across the United States—and that hasn’t slowed down since.
“It blows my mind. I love my commissions because they all have a story,” she says. “I have no inventory because I’ve been so busy with commissions. But now, I hope to do some things I’ve been envisioning and wanting to create.”
One painting for her sister-in-law depicted the lion and the lamb, which Elizabeth says was the perfect representation of her walk and purpose. “It symbolizes he’s more powerful than we could imagine,” she says.
The piece has become one of her favorites and will also be available as a print. Other pieces both Elizabeth and her customers love are the nativity scene ornaments, star ornaments and, of course, her dog paintings—which have become the majority of what she does.
Since embarking on this new journey, Elizabeth has been blown away from not only the number of orders she’s received, but also how they’ve come from across the globe. Her commissioned pieces have also allowed her to interact with a variety of people. “I love meeting clients and just hearing the stories of the people who call me,” she says.
No matter if she’s painting a furry friend, an intricate church or captivating ornament, Elizabeth is living out her purpose, and she encourages others to search for theirs, as well.
“The whole reason I’m doing this is because it’s a calling on my heart,” she says. “I’m trying to plant seeds where I am. The Lord has all of us here for a purpose. There’s a reason that things are a joy in your heart. It’s because the Lord has put it there.”
Elizabeth’s artwork can be found on Etsy at etsy.com/shop/ElizabethPollandArt and Instagram @efpolland, and she plans to launch a website soon. Locals can also spot Elizabeth and her pieces around town at events like the Bluff Park Art Show on Oct. 2.
Finding Her Way Back
Elizabeth Polland’s mother was her biggest supporter, playing a vital role in her artistic journey. Even more profound was how her mother impacted Elizabeth’s spiritual growth. Her mother gave her a book filled with scripture and prayers, which helped lead Elizabeth to grow in her faith and get re-baptized in 2008.
She recalls her mother telling her that this was the strongest she had ever seen Elizabeth. But 12 days later, her mother unexpectedly passed away. “My mother was my biggest cheerleader,” Elizabeth says. “She is so important in this whole walk.”
After her mother passed away, Elizabeth put her art away for six to eight years to deal with her loss. She also remarried during that time and ended up discovering she had a new supporter who helped her pick up a paintbrush again: her husband. “He’s been my encourager and support, just like my mom was,” she says. And her three children — two sons in high school and a daughter in college — have also supported her through the years too.