Downtown Van Buren is one of those quaint southern towns that is often full of surprises. Main Street offers a variety of stores to hold the interest of visitors. Nestled between an array of restaurants and retail shops is a unique gallery that is the home of Ralph Irwin’s Studio.

Downtown Van Buren is one of those quaint southern towns that is often full of surprises. Main Street offers a variety of stores to hold the interest of visitors. Nestled between an array of restaurants and retail shops is a unique gallery that is the home of Ralph Irwin’s Studio.

Irwin is a Van Buren artist who has spent nigh on forty years on Main Street. He gets his artistic inspiration from many sources: music, archaeological digs and history for starters. Forget the traditional canvas of oils and acrylics. Artistically, Irwin is an innovator, thinking beyond tradition, working on redwood planks laden with painted sand. Or re-purposing cast off materials into useful creations.

In his second story office is a framed sketch of an Indian brave. “I was 16 years old when I did that one. I was curious to know if I had talent,” remembers Irwin. Some fifty plus years later, he is still creating--and mentoring today’s aspiring young talent.

Inspired by 19th century composer Ferde Grofe, Irwin created his own artistic rendition of The Grand Canyon Suite. He created an adhesive process to layer painted sand over redwood planks. Using a dental pick, Irwin painstakingly carves his creations into an image that captures every nuance of shadow over Arizona’s Grand Canyon.


An innovative thinker, Irwin likes to re-purpose materials. Irwin’s studio boasts several of his furniture creations. Most of these are beautiful pieces specifically designed to display beautiful works of art. However, some are simply interesting works of what he describes as “neo-deco” designs--artistically created for beauty and engineered for strength.

Of course your fingers can do the online walking to RalphIrwinStudio.com to view more of his unique art. But, this is one trip you’ll want to make in person. Irwin’s work is rich and expansive. Much of it is sculpted in 3-D. All of it is uniquely Irwin. Visit the studio at 627 Main Street, Van Buren, 479 474-4114.

Sketched by Irwin at the age of 16

Tediously sculpted on redwood planks, this Trail of Tears sand painting captures the tortuous journey of the Native American tribes as they are forced into relocation.

Irwin’s neo-deco furniture designs are stylish, artistic and durable. This one is crafted from re-purposed wood materials


By Nicole Alexander
Photography by Sarah Treece

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