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A Tribute to Lora Hill Earnhardt

Lora Hill Earnhardt


January 18, 1947 — September 11, 2023

by Suzanne Lavone Smith, Advisory Board Member

As 2023 marked Lora Hill’s 20th year on the Executive Board, a PSA record, an article was planned to recognize her diverse roles and dedicated service. The focus of this article has now shifted to honor her memory.

The Portrait Society of Atlanta has lost yet another devoted member with a rich history of serving the organization. For those who did not have the privilege of knowing Lora Hill, you missed enjoying a lovely person whose effervescence was contagious. Those who knew her felt she was one of their closest friends and vice versa. Lora had that gift of making everyone feel special. As Thomas Nash stated, “In truth, SHE was the one who was special. I think the best word to describe Lora is “Classy”. We go way back…even before the PSA was founded in 1979.”

Although there might have been earlier volunteer service beyond my knowledge, I know that Lora served the PSA continuously from 2001 until her health declined in recent months. Initially, she was Event Photographer and created numerous photo albums, scrapbooks and archived records. She was elected onto the Executive Board in 2003 and served as Programs Chair for four years before her term as President from 2007 to 2009. She then served as Immediate Past President from 2009 to 2011, and remained on the board as a Director with various duties from 2011 until her passing.

Lora’s interesting life included some acting and modeling. Perhaps the claim to fame of which she was most proud was being the hand model for “Designing Women” star Dixie Carter in the “Let your fingers do the walking” BellSouth Yellow Pages commercials that ran on TV. Lora used her stage and production experience while serving as the PSA’s Programs Chair. She provided her own lights, backdrops, podium, easel, model chair or whatever might be needed to ensure our events went off without a hitch. Lora introduced our VIP guests with her velvety voice and grace, carefully setting the proper tone of respect and professionalism.

Photo of Lora speaking at a PSA meeting.

For decades, Lora was a comforting, familiar presence speaking in front of the Portrait Society of Atlanta meetings.

Lora enjoyed archiving PSA history and collecting meaningful mementos. After PSA events in which her wooden easel had been used, Lora asked the artists to autograph it, creating a unique souvenir record. Igor Babailov, Gordon Wetmore, Michael del Priore, Michael Shane Neal, Dawn Whitelaw, Margaret Baumgaertner, Bart Lindstrom, and several others signed her easel.

In addition to overseeing Programs for many years, Lora either supervised or helped support PSA Critique Sessions and Juried Exhibitions. She often provided the award ribbons, and received, delivered and picked up artwork for members. She provided safekeeping for works of deceased Advisory Board Members, bringing the works to our exhibitions in honor of their memories and contributions. Before he passed, Clyde Burnette, Member of Excellence, entrusted a displaced portrait into her care. She persisted in her efforts to find the best recipient for the valuable piece, as described in Folio article, “A Portrait’s Journey Home” by Michael L. Strickland.

Throughout her years of service to the PSA, Lora often volunteered to sit as a model for workshops and programs. She purchased many of these special portraits or received them as gifts. A few examples are shown here.

Photo of Lora Hill's easel.

Lora’s “Autograph Easel” that she provided for many guest artists to use

Portraits of Lora modeling by (Top row, L to R): Damon Carter, Margaret (Peggy) Baumgaertner (Bottom row, L to R) Louis Carr, and Suzanne Lavone Smith.

Lora collected other works of art for her personal enjoyment and displayed them throughout her home. Her regular attendance at the Portrait Society of America annual conferences provided opportunities to make numerous friends and purchase works from their 6×9 exhibits. Lora was so likable and sociable, everyone knew her and she looked forward to visiting with other artists at the meetings every year.

Left: Lora chatting with Burton Silverman at the Portrait Society of America conference. Right: Lora posed for the demo given by Louis Carr at the September 24, 2019, PSA meeting

Nancy Honea, Advisory Board Member, commented, “I valued how Lora was supportive and dedicated to the success of the Portrait Society of Atlanta. And, with her joyful nature, Lora enhanced the fellowship of our PSA artist community. She was a dear friend for so many years. Lora was always eager to grow her artistic skills and often asked me for private critiques of her work. She supported the PSA Critique Session opportunities because she realized the importance of learning from fellow artists.” (See comments from other PSA members below.)

Lora’s artistic skills were evident in varied ways. She produced a show of “touchable” art for the blind; she created beautiful silk floral arrangements and often gave them as gifts; she created a gorgeous pastel series featuring Koi fish that she also had reprinted for gifting. Lora humorously recounted that one of her pieces hung in the Smithsonian, albeit in a friend’s office there. Her portrait works reflected refined realism, using pastels and oils with equal expertise. Through countless studies and workshops, she easily captured subjects accurately in live model settings. In 2019, she achieved Member of Merit status and, in our Fall 2022 exhibition, her pastel portrait of Everett Raymond Kinstler was awarded First Prize. She was immensely talented and was thrilled to have accomplished these goals.

Left: Lora with her pastel portrait of “Everett Raymond Kinstler” that won First Prize in the PSA’s Fall 2022 Juried Exhibition. Right: The “American Artist WORKSHOP Magazine” Spring 2010 issue featured this photo of Lora and her study from life.

“Twenty,” one of a series of pastel paintings of Koi
by Lora

“Princess Grace Kelly,” Lora’s large oil portrait which is unfinished. In fact, she had been working on “Grace” for roughly 40 years! Achieving the perfect final state was her pastime and never ending quest.

“Liz,” an example of Lora’s touchable art for the blind to feel all the textures and enjoy

Lora helping one of her precious Cobble Creek students.

For seven years, Lora taught art classes for young children (aged 5 to 7 years) at the Cobble Creek Studios Art Academy in Snellville, which was founded by fellow PSA member, Deborah Kepes. Lora found this teaching experience to be very fulfilling. She was proud to share the love of art with children who enjoyed her positive, nurturing spirit. Deb commented that, “Lora took her job very seriously. The children would glow when she met them eye to eye with a smile. She wanted only to leave an impression on them that they were artists! Using imaginative techniques, she educated even the youngest students with concepts of figure drawing, perspective, color theory, etc. She celebrated the achievements of each student and that encouragement was so important to them. Not one child exited the classroom without a hug from her, and a lollipop! She was so much more than a friend and an artist. Lora brought love and laughter to everyone she touched.”

There were layers and depths of Lora’s personality that she would share uniquely in each personal relationship. Many, including me, worked closely with her for decades, and felt she was closer than a sister. Each believed that she understood them as only a best friend could. She was always encouraging, caring, and supportive. Her jovial demeanor belied the wisdom she held and shared at just the right times. Every conversation ended with a good laugh at jokes she had saved to read. Lora cultivated friendships like a skillful gardener. She was respected and loved by so many that there was barely room for everyone at her funeral. Lora was laid to rest in the Monastery of the Holy Spirit’s natural woodland cemetery, but our memories of her will live forever in all of our hearts.

Below are additional comments from a few PSA members…

Don Meadows, PSA President:
“Lora was a constant and welcoming presence at PSA meetings and events. We all benefited from her devotion and volunteer work. We’ll miss her warmth and smile and her support for PSA and its members. Our condolences go out to Lora’s husband, Ernie, of 38 years; to their extended family; and to their many friends.”

Ernest Varner, Advisory Board Member
“Of all the people I’ve known in my life, Lora was at the top of the list of people wanting peace on earth, and good will towards her fellow men and women. Always greeting everyone with a heart full of love, then sending them on their way all the more blessed having spent time with her.”

Carol Kirby, Advisory Board Member:
“I met Lora in the early 90s at the PSA and I admired her from the start. She was enthusiastic, hard working, faithful and fun. Lora had a deeply caring heart with concern for others. She will be greatly missed. I loved working with her and knowing her.”

Ann Bailey, Executive Board Member:
“Dear Lora, You are were an immense help to me when I served as President and did not know for sure what to do, you were always there when the event was happening, you always knew who to lend a helping hand to, and you always showed up with exactly what was needed. The Portrait Society of Atlanta is forever indebted and you will be missed forever. You also reached into the Portrait Society of America with your unwavering energy and dedication. Thank you so much for being the shining light of propriety and for being the keeper of history, both intellectual and physical. There is a good reason that our invaluable mentors like Jim Schell and Clyde Burnette trusted their legacies to your safekeeping, and we are always going to miss that element of your altruism, your dedication, and your loving laughter and guidance.”

Cheryl Mann Hardin:
“It was an honor to know Lora Hill through the PSA. From the first meeting I attended years ago, she treated me like her best friend and she treated everyone else the same way. Devoted to the PSA does not begin to express how committed she has been through the years to the integrity and success of the organization. Lora’s exquisite portraits reflect a character that guided her in everything she did, paying attention to details and at the same time seeing the overall picture in every situation with grace and beauty. She will never be forgotten.”

Luana Luconi Winner:
“Lora was one of the sweetest, most considerate women I’ve known. We met too many years ago to admit to…and oh, how we laughed. I will never forget her voice and her laugh. What a dear she was.”

Kathy Cuiffi:
“Lora was like a sister to me. She was definitely a classy lady! She supported our framing business and was always very encouraging and supportive about my paintings. I will always love her and cherish the memories of the times we spent together.”

In addition to our PSA Facebook page, there is a memorial page set up by the Wages and Sons funeral home if others would like to leave a comment.

Lora Hill’s artwork portfolio page is posted on the Cobble Creek Studios website.