My Soul Belongs to Him

Michael Dumas Experience, Spring 2020

Rianna Freeman Turner ’02 & ’05

Rianna Freeman Turner describes her paintings as a reflection of her true self: someone whose devotion to Jesus Christ inspires her to creatively bare her soul every day. So it’s telling that to experience her art is to step into a place of wonder, lightness and joy.

While attending art classes at the University of Mobile, she learned to “paint what you see, not what you know,” an invaluable concept that helped Turner develop and trust her unique perspective. That confidence helped transform her into a professional artist who, in 2019 alone, was the featured artist at Daphne’s annual Jubilee Festival, and winner of Best of Show out of 480 other artists at the prestigious Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

It had been years since she’d entered a festival, but Turner’s trust in God’s vision for her life helped allay any doubts.

“Art is a reflection of the soul, and my soul belongs to Him,” she said.

Spiritually, Turner was saved years before she entered college, but said attending the University of Mobile was an evolutionary step in her faith.

After earning her Bachelor of Science in communication with a minor in fine art in 2002, she mastered in Marriage and Family Counseling in 2005.

“I wanted to go to a school that would help me become the person God had for me, on the spiritual level and in so many other levels in life,” Turner said.

After graduation, she traveled the nation for five years with the Woman’s Missionary Union Foundation, a Southern Baptist-affiliated national missions organization, teaching painting classes in a program she created called “missions masterpiece” to raise funds for missions. She also taught adult and children’s painting classes in Lafayette, Louisiana, for several years.

Most recently, she taught painting classes to 3rd and 4th graders in Washington County, Alabama, schools and surrounding counties through the Wilcox Foundation and Gallery, a nonprofit foundation that seeks to bring art and music to rural communities who may not have access otherwise. The foundation, headed by former UM Board of Trustee member Susan Wilcox Turner, also has a partnership with UM’s Alabama School of the Arts and Dr. Kadisha Onalbayeva, Steinway Artist and UM professor, that provides two scholarships to master’s-level piano students who teach a free piano lab for the community.

It’s safe to say the devoted wife and mother of three sees the world a bit differently than anyone else. Turner is grateful for her understanding of that truth, and it helps her approach each day just as she does each new piece of art.

“Just keep painting and see what happens,” she said. “And expect to be really surprised.”

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Michael Dumas