ROCKINGHAM – She says she’s a well kept secret in Richmond County, but if you’re into portraits, and specifically jazz paintings and 3-D print art, then you’re probably familiar with who she is.
Annie Renee Harden is an engineer, artist and teacher all wrapped up in one. She’s the chair and lead instructor of the Mechanical Engineering Technology program at Richmond Community College, but her first passion in life was her art.
“Anytime I’ve gone through anything in my life, I’ve always painted to relieve stress,” Harden said. “That’s just something I’ve always done, that’s a part of me, really. My paintings are like my kids. I don’t want to give them up.”
She first picked up drawing when her mother bought her number drawings to help her with her math in school when she was young – ironic, considering her success now as an engineer – and she’s painted ever since.
Harden’s work is slowly getting noticed, having done portraits for people and now having her work purchased in art shows in Charlotte. In addition to the engineering classes she teaches at RCC, she’s even started teaching her own art classes before the pandemic, not to mention being commissioned to help paint the newly unveiled Black Lives Matter mural at the Dobbins Heights Community Park.
Creating 3-D printed art has been a direct influence of her work as an engineer. She makes jewelry and other unique objects using 3-D printing technology.
“A lot of people think mechanical engineering is just design of mechanical parts,” Harden said. “But when you think of any type of mechanical, anything, it’s got to have some kind of creativity. You got to think outside the box.”
Dealing with fibromyalgia has humbled Harden, she says. Being able to reflect and look back on the struggles she had to endure with her medical issues helps her to utilize the creativity that spurs her work as an engineer and as an artist.
Inspired by the work of expressionist painter and educator Alma Thomas, Harden’s creative process is simple: once she gets an idea, she start’s collecting items that can be used in the piece and then her creative and engineering minds go to work.
She uses a little bit of everything in her paintings – from pine cone needles, tree bark and bamboo to the typical acrylic and pastel paints.
“I collect this and that and then I start using this and as it comes together, I may take some away,” Harden said. “I might put some back, and I kind of just work on feeling and expression. If I like it, I keep it. If I don’t, then I work around it and do something else.
“That’s the mechanical mind,” she continued. “We are problem solvers. That’s how it ties into my art because if I want to do something I say, ‘Oh, I’m going to figure out how to do it.’ And then I figure it out.“
Ultimately, Harden said she hopes she can unify people and change lives through her art, whether by motivating someone to do better or to help someone overcome an issue.
“I look at it as all of us are God’s children, we’re all one, and we need to learn to come together as one,” she said. “And so I want my art to touch people in a way to where we’re all family.
“A lot of times I don’t even charge because out of the kindness of my heart, I want to make someone smile,” she said. “My husband says, ‘you need to stop doing all this stuff for free,’ but sometimes it’s just my heart. I just I like to make people smile and feel good.”
Reach Neel Madhavan at 910-817-2671 ext. 2748 or [email protected] Follow on Twitter at @NeelMadhavan.