Nancy McGraw, owner of Just for Pearls by Dumas, is thrilled to be back at Art on the Border after the Classic Charitable Foundation took a pandemic hiatus.

McGraw said artists only need to know a little about the show and the sale to want to participate.

“Fort Smith is a fantastic town,” she said. “He loves his community. And their purpose, you don’t want to be out of it, because it’s such a great community event. He serves everyone, so that was number one for me.”

McGraw said she felt honored to be represented among other high-profile artists from the region.

Art at the border:More than 70 artists come to Fort Smith to exhibit and sell their work for Art on the Border

As a student at the University of Central Arkansas, McGraw had the opportunity to study the violin in Beijing, China.

The university orchestra rehearsed and gave a concert tour in Fujian province.

While staying at a hotel in Fuzhou, McGraw met the North Korean Symphony Orchestra and its conductor.

The symphony wanted to listen to their rehearsal and invited the orchestra to their concert.

This is where her love for pearls began.

Nancy McGraw and her Chinese friends from Shanghai.  The family sold McGraw their first pearls in 2006.

China is the world’s largest producer of cultured pearls.

McGraw said she now has a “crazy amount of pearls” and is moving towards non-traditional or “funky” shaped pearls.

“That’s what I love about pearls, they’re not all round and white,” she said.

McGraw has traveled to China to buy genuine pearls three times a year since 2006.

“It’s the people you know who open those doors and make those connections for you,” McGraw said. “Yes, I can play the violin, but it was the people I met along the way that allowed me to travel and have the opportunity to play in an orchestra in China and reap the pearls. “

Baroque pearl necklace and earrings designed by Nancy McGraw in Little Rock, Arkansas.

McGraw noted that “every road” in her life led her back to playing the violin.

She even has a quartet that she can travel around the state with for weddings and events.

With her many trips abroad, McGraw decided to take Mandarin lessons at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2008.

In Tianjin, China McGraw met a harpist who invited her to give her testimony of faith in an underground church.

McGraw said it was “very moving and a bit scary”.

She brought magnets from Hobby Lobby with writing engraved on the surface. A translator relayed the message to the congregation.

“They asked me questions and the one I remember the most is ‘How do you pray?'” McGraw said. “Growing up as a Christian, you don’t think like that, you know how to pray. You understand how it works. They don’t know it, it’s an urgent thing for them. It’s a very serious thing for them. “

She explained that the Chinese desire to have a full understanding of prayer even if they are baptized or initiated into Christianity at the age of three or four.

McGraw reassured people she met in the church that they can pray anytime, any way.

Thanks to his talents as a violinist, McGraw had the opportunity to play at the Shanghai Community Fellowship Church.

She said people from Nigeria, New Zealand, Mexico, Europe, Cayman Islands and other countries travel and visit the church while in Shanghai.

“It’s very emotional and you don’t know everyone and you’re not from the same country but you speak English and all of a sudden you have this connection with these people because you’re also 7,000 miles from home,” McGraw said.

McGraw’s friendships in China have given her the inventory she needs to run Just for Pearls.

Authentic pearl jewelry designed by Nancy McGraw in Little Rock, Arkansas.

She is able to ship five pounds of pearls overseas at a time on her annual visits.

McGraw said her “pearl ladies” are aware of the quality she wants in her jewelry.

“It’s really convenient and some of them are waiting for me and they’re like ‘look, here’s what we’ve harvested this year,'” she said. “I really get a fresh crop every year and so they’re going to keep amazing pearls for me.”

McGraw said it took years to build those relationships, but the rewards were worth it.