July 2018 Issue
by Dwain Hebda
Photography by Jamison Mosley
Among Linda Harding’s haunting creations is a composite piece that blurs the line between photography and the visual arts. In it, a female figure is seated in a rowboat on dry land, her face and torso obscured by an oversized rose caught between bud and full bloom.
It’s not hard to draw parallels between the figure and Harding’s life as an artist, producing uncommon beauty from familiar places while patiently waiting on the tide to rise and carry it where it needs to go.
“Everything can be an inspiration,” she says from a crisp window table at Cache Restaurant in Little Rock’s River Market. “I started in landscapes, but I’ve also kind of morphed and do some compositing type things. I’m learning new fun stuff because I think if you’re static, you’re not moving forward. You’re behind.”
Harding is passionate about her work in all ways but talking about it. Art has always been in her, knocking on her insides and flashing before her eyes. For years, she buttoned it down until one day eight years ago when, her home a suddenly empty nest, the last tumbler on the lock clicked and her artistic urge burst forward. Today, her work’s getting attention in the art world from New York to Las Vegas.
“Photography came into play in college with my roommate because she had a class and I drove her around to do all that,” she says. “I’ve always had a camera, but never had darkrooms; always wanted to, but you don’t do that until you have the time.
“After the kids were gone, I went to my first digital workshop because I thought I was finally ready,” she adds.
Across the table Linda’s husband, Little Rock businessman and philanthropist Rush Harding III, nods appreciatively. He’s not an artist in the same vein as she is – his canvas is the boardroom and his medium is money – but he loves to see her embrace this part of herself that she’s kept under wraps for so long.
“What I love about Linda, she’s still just a down-to-earth, friendly, courteous, humble woman from North Little Rock,” he says. “She’s the best mother, the best wife. What’s amazing now is watching her metamorphosis into an artist as she just flourishes and grows. It’s miraculous to me.”
Anyone who believes the American Dream is dead never had a drink and a laugh with Rush and Linda Harding. Both born of modest beginnings – he the son of Delta schoolteachers, she the daughter of a homemaker and box factory manager – they’ve spent 37 years together during which time Rush achieved tremendous success with Crews & Associates, an investment group he helped launch in 1979. Later, the firm was acquired by First Security Bancorp, for which he serves as CEO for First Security Finance.
Despite the stellar resume, Harding had no intention of going into corporate life, pursuing degrees in English and math on the assumption he’d coach and teach like his father. Once life presented the opportunity, however, he learned on the street what his competitors learned in college.
“When I first got into the business, I didn’t have a clue about how the business world functioned,” he says. “I had to familiarize myself with that, and my learning curve was pretty steep. I got it pretty quick and I had a good mentor, Adron Crews, who I went to work for and I helped found our company with.”
Crews taught him the ropes, and more than once, banked it all on his star protégé who, once he found his stride, proved to be an unmatched salesman. What’s more, Harding’s instincts proved no match for even the scariest of financial times in one of the riskiest industries on earth.
“All we’ve ever done is come to work every day,” he says. “We’ve been through several very volatile, very chaotic stretches in the economic spectrum over that timeframe, but we’ve made money every year and we’ve left that money in the company and we’ve grown. We’re real proud of what we’ve built.”
Linda and Rush met at a University of Central Arkansas function where he was the featured speaker and she was a still a coed. Smitten, Rush followed her to her car and they started talking. When she declined a goodnight kiss, he declared on the spot that he was going to marry her. She said not without a date first. The rest is history and a sometimes-choppy one at that, and yet they continue: Still different, still evolving and still here.
“I’m pretty independent and always have been. My gig was, I don’t care what you do in life, be the best you can be,” Linda says. “Would I change things? Well, only in another life would you do that. On our downest days, I’m still going to support [Rush].”
“For me, I know that I’ve started, and hope I’m not too far into, the fourth quarter of my business career, maybe the fourth quarter of my life,” Rush says. “The fact that, in recent years, I’ve been able to watch her flourish and grow before my eyes, man, it’s special. She’s a talented woman.”