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Natchez’s colorful landscape inspires artist to create

NATCHEZ — Inspiration comes in many colors for Kate Lee Laird, the pink and purple azaleas and crepe myrtles in full bloom, brick and stucco antebellum mansions, golden reflections on the Mississippi River at sunset and bright-colored hot air balloons during the annual Natchez Balloon Festival.

These were the inspirations that inspired Laird to paint.

“If I’m in a rut, I will get up and walk around. That’s what I love about being downtown. There is so much inspiration right here, even if it’s just a small walk around the bluff,” she said.

Laird said she has painted since she was old enough to hold a brush. In September 2020, she moved into her new art gallery at 503 Franklin St. but after COVID-19, she only opened up the doors to happy customers and tourists last month.

Or at least they feel happy once they see the bright and colorful art pieces Laird has hanging on every wall.

“I see color as an emotion,” Laird said. “I want people to look at something and it just brighten their day.”

Laird does it all, she said, including live wedding painting, pet portraits and landscapes. She has also done various types of commission work and painted the wings on the side of The Guest House. Laird guessed she spends 50 hours a week painting and the rest of her time packaging and shipping portraits and prints to her clients. Her live paintings cost anywhere from $900 to $2,000 plus travel expenses. Paintings can cost $50 to $1,500 and prints cost $15 to $20, she said.

Laird does most of her business online at kateleelairdart.com or through Instagram or Facebook.

Since Laird became a full-time painter in 2017, her goal has been to own a space where she can show off her work and give her clients easier access to meet her between events, she said.

Laird said she worked five other spaces counting her studio in while she was studying painting and drawing at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Upon her return to Natchez, Laird worked in a tiny room at the back of her mother’s sign shop.

“It was so small, it didn’t have windows or anything,” she said.

An opportunity opened up for Laird when her friend Taylor Cooley offered to share a space with her just before Cooley closed on a new photography studio at 631 Franklin St. Cooley said she had the studio for a year before relocating a little further down the block.

“It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Laird said. “We do different things but they kind of compliment each other. I painted this beautiful couch and she is going to take it out to a flower field and have a bunch of photo spring photo shoots with it. There are things like that we get to collaborate on.”

Cooley is an artist herself, but in a different way. While Laird captures moments with a brush, Cooley does the same through photography.

She and her husband, Henry “Trey” Cooley, work together in photography. Cooley opened a full time photography business in 2014 but has been fascinated with taking pictures since 2012, after the birth of her daughter, she said.

As her newborn daughter continued to grow and change every day, Cooley said she wanted to capture every moment she could.

“We couldn’t afford to hire someone to take as many professional pictures of her as I wanted so I thought I would learn to do it myself,” she said. “I took classes online and went through lots and lots of trial and error.”

In that same year, Cooley said she lost her dad, Charles Wright. After his death, capturing moments with family became more important to her than ever, she said.

“You’re documenting a memory and freezing it time so it lasts forever,” she said. “They say a picture is just a picture until it’s all you have left. The only pictures I have of my dad are little cell phone pictures that I can’t blow up any bigger than a four by six. Pictures are everything.”

Cooley can be reached via email to taylor@taylorcooleyphotography.com. Headshots are $75 and a wedding package can go up to $3,000, she said.

“My goal is to remain affordable,” she said. “If I couldn’t afford it I don’t want to charge it.”

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