Art on the Border includes handmade early pearl jewelry

Dumas-based Just for Pearls owner Nancy McGraw is delighted to be back with Art on the Border after the Classic Charitable Foundation went on hiatus due to the pandemic.

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

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

McGraw said she was honored to be represented alongside other renowned artists in the region.

Art on the border:Over 70 artists travel 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 violin in Beijing, China.

The university orchestra rehearsed and held 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 beads in 2006.

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

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

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

Since 2006, McGraw has visited China three times a year to purchase authentic pearls.

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

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

McGraw noted that “all roads” in her life have led back to her violin playing.

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

Due to her extensive travels abroad, McGraw decided in 2008 to pursue Mandarin courses at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

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

McGraw said it was “very moving and kind of scary.”

She brought in Hobby Lobby magnets with writing engraved on the surface. A translator forwarded the message to the community.

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

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

McGraw assured the people she met at church that they can pray anytime, any way.

Her talent as a violinist gave McGraw the opportunity to play at the Shanghai Community Fellowship Church.

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

“It’s very moving and you don’t know everyone and you’re not from the same country, but you speak English and suddenly you have this bond 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 handy and some of them are waiting for me and they’re like, ‘Look, here’s what we harvested this year,'” she said. “I really get fresh harvest every year so they will keep amazing pearls for me.”

McGraw said it took years to build those relationships, but the reward was worth it.

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