Once upon a time, in a classroom at Marietta School, a young Vicki Gray sat doodling on her arms, legs, desk and anything else she could find.
Of course, back then, she did not know that doodling, drawing, painting and the arts would become her life and, as of this year, her business. In June, Gray opened Southern Belle Artiquities in downtown Fulton with the idea of turning her passion for the creative – for anything vintage, old-school or bohemian – into the kind of packed emporium of unique odds and ends she loves to explore.
The store is, by all accounts, an easy fit for the former elementary art teacher. Gray came by her love of the singular and imaginative as naturally as breathing. One spring in the 1970s, Gray found herself perusing the booths at the Redlands Art Festival. The venue brought together artists who shared the same passions and interests, and Gray accredits the festival for inspiring her at such a young age.
“I so adore the little town of Fulton,” she said. “I fell in love with this place, back when I was young, because they appreciated the arts. Although I never did anything to be a part of the festival, I would go every year to look at all the art and creativity.”
In her childhood home, Gray would sit with her aunt and try to copy the work of artists she saw on television. In school, Gray’s teachers noticed her artistic talents, but with such a small agriculture-based community, it was hard for her to be encouraged to pursue art as a career.
“I remember my first-grade teacher the most because she would always compliment my coloring,” Gray said with a laugh.
Throughout high school, Gray continued to dabble with the arts, but never let her creative side take the lead. When she enrolled into college, her major was secretarial accounting, because “that is what everyone did at the time.”
After she received that degree, Gray decided to go back to school to actually pursue her passion. Once there, her professor encouraged her to change her major to art education because she would have had to move into a big city to pursue a different art major.
“I went into it not knowing how much I’d love the kids once I got there,” Gray said, “Every one of them felt like they were my own child.”
Gray got her first teaching job at Fulton Grammar School but was only there for three years before moving into Itawamba Attendance Center (IAC). She remained at IAC for 18 years until her retirement in 2014.
While retired, Gray had a lot of free time to focus on herself, her family, and her passions. She spent most of her time with her grandchildren, but during that time, she began thinking of a way to transform her art into a profitable hobby.
Southern Bell Artiquities, her little shop crammed wall-to-wall with antiques, art pieces and countless other treasures, was the answer.
“I’ve always loved it all,” she said. “Just art and antiques are my true passions.”
Decades after sitting in class doodling on her arms and legs, Gray’s had the good fortune to make a living with both of them.