Who knew that a Fort Worth boy who liked to draw Ninja Turtles would one day be honored by the Smithsonian.

That’s what happened to Sedrick Huckaby, 41, an artist and assistant professor of painting at the University of Texas at Arlington. Though he’s stayed true to his Fort Worth roots, his work has branched out from his hometown, having been featured in places such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

This year, Huckaby was named one of seven winners in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, which recognizes work from artists around the country. His painting, a self-portrait titled Sedrick, Sed, Daddy, received a commendation and is on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

“We all have a perception of our own art and what we think it is, if we think it’s good or bad or whatever it is,” Huckaby said. “But to have a group of specialists think highly of it is a wonderful thing.”

While being recognized across the country is nice, it’s equally nice to get some attention back home, Huckaby said. Currently on display at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art is his series The 99% – Highland Hills, a collection of portraits inspired by the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement, which emphasized the disparity between the wealthy “1 percent” and not wealthy “99 percent” of the U.S. population. Huckaby wanted to showcase the “99 percent” in his community, sketching portraits of individuals along with a quote from each person.

Huckaby’s work is featured alongside the work of artist Glenn Ligon in the exhibit Identity. The show runs through Oct. 9.

“This is my hometown,” Huckaby said. “Many times a person is accepted in other places before they’re actually accepted at home, but for a hometown and an institution to welcome you in and be able to embrace what you’re doing, it’s a great thing.”

Maggie Adler, assistant curator at the Amon Carter museum, said having a living artist’s work helps audiences relate to the art, even more so when it’s a local artist such as Huckaby.

“His work speaks to the communities that surround the museum because he lives and works here and that’s a very powerful connection for our audience,” she said. “That said, we collect and show his work not just because he is from Fort Worth or from Texas but because we feel his art is exceptional, intelligent and moving regardless. And, of course, this is why he has received national acclaim beyond our walls.”

Fort Worth was where Huckaby’s love for art took shape. He grew up in the Highland Hills area and spent time doodling characters from TV shows such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Battlestar Galactica. Sometimes he’d even make up characters of his own.

“I felt like I had some ability in terms of drawing, but what exactly that meant, I didn’t know, really,” he said. “I knew I wanted to do something with art.”

During high school, Huckaby took classes at the Modern Art Museum with Fort Worth artist Ron Tomlinson as his mentor. Tomlinson encouraged Huckaby to pursue art as a career, so with his parents’ support, Huckaby decided to study art at Texas Wesleyan University. He later transferred to Boston University and earned his bachelor’s degree in fine arts, then went on to earn his master’s in fine arts at Yale University.

Now Huckaby finds himself on the other end of the classroom, working as a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. He said he often encounters students with concerned parents asking the question, “What do you do with an art degree?”

“The important thing about those questions is to really get a good answer for those questions and not just assume things about them,” Huckaby said. “But really research and look into situations so that you have an informed answer. Ignorance about it fosters all kinds of things. It can either foster an unrealistic outlook, or it could foster an imaginative outlook.”

His advice to aspiring artists is to get an education and be informed about the types of art careers available, whether it be in teaching, graphic design or something else.

Having a career in art is not impossible, after all. It worked out for Huckaby.

“You have to learn your craft, and really, like any field, develop a habit of creating,” he said. “If you’re really thinking about doing this, you spend the rest of your life creating.”

Sedrick Huckaby’s work is on display through Oct. 9 at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Admission is free.

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