By Marie Nesmith Jan 12, 2024 | Daily Tribune News

Known for showcasing Bartow’s beloved buildings, Samantha Centers is delighted to lend her talents to help four-legged creatures find forever homes.

Collaborating with Etowah Valley Humane Society, she served as the illustrator for “Where Best Friends Meet: A Colorful Journey of Bartow County.” The coloring book is currently generating funds and awareness for the Cartersville nonprofit.

“I had originally had the idea of doing an iconic Cartersville landmark coloring book, and I mentioned it to my dear friend, Deanna Berry,” Centers said. “It was her amazing idea to add adoptable dogs and cats in order to raise money for EVHS.

“As soon as she said it, there was no going back. I love animals, especially dogs and cats. I’m the proud owner of both. My house is just not home without them.”

While this ongoing effort is one-of-a-kind, it is a continuation of Centers’ ongoing support of the local Humane Society.

“I’ve donated artwork to many of their charity events in the past,” she said. “EVHS is especially near and dear to my heart because I adopted my best friend from there in 2010 — Yogi, a Newfoundland Landseer.

“He was the greatest dog I’ve ever known and my absolute best friend. He even became locally famous when he’d come with me to The Paint Shack Paint Studio I opened in 2012. People often visited just to see him. I lost him in 2017. I will forever be grateful to EVHS for bringing Yogi into my life. People still come up to me and tell me they miss him. He was that special.”

Formed in the mid-1990s as the Bartow County Humane Society, the organization changed its name to Etowah Valley Humane Society in October 2006, the same year it opened the 4,928-square-foot shelter at 36 Ladds Mountain Road. The nonprofit continues to serve as the adoption and rescue outlet for Bartow County Animal Control.

“Samantha has one of those creative minds that never stops working,” said Berry, an EVHS board member. “Every once in a while, she’ll send me a Facebook message with an idea for a parade float, mural, fundraiser, etc. Back in July, she sent me a message asking what I thought about a coloring book featuring Cartersville landmarks. I suggested adding adoptable pets and making it an EVHS fundraiser, and off we went. Within a day or two, she sent me dozens of sketches. Over the next couple months, we continued to toss around ideas and expand the features countywide.

“She did an amazing job capturing the charm of Bartow County, and many of the cats and dogs were based on her friends’ pets. All three of mine are in there.”

Berry penned the captions for “Where Best Friends Meet.” Teaming up with Berry for the “coloring book was a lot of fun,” Centers shared.

“I included many of my friend’s pets as a surprise,” she said. “It was my most favorite project I’ve yet to work on and I hope we get to do one every year, adding more of our favorite parts of Bartow County and featuring more adorable adoptable dogs and cats.

“I have to again give credit to Deanna for the adorable rhymes and title. She added that extra little magic it needed.”

For Centers, “Where Best Friends Meet” contains many memorable components.

“My favorite page in the book is Agan’s Bakery because Yogi is on it swiping one of their famous gingerbread cookies but I also love the dog nativity scene with a cat as an angel. I love the farmers’ market’s spread as well — the cat being the barista inside the coffee truck makes me giggle.

“Another fun tidbit is Louis Tonsmeire as ‘leprechaun Louis’ — he is the only actual human in the entire coloring book. I love the little surprises like that.”

“Where Best Friends Meet” is helping raise essential funds for the EVHS facility, which costs around $325,000 to operate annually. The structure consists of a surgical suite, two visitation rooms, two staff offices, a puppy room with 19 enclosures, 14 climate-controlled kennel runs, a cat room with 24 enclosures, a quarantine room for young puppies and an on-site dog park.

“Our goal was to get them finished in time for Christmas shopping, and we were able to do that — but the coloring books themselves are not holiday specific,” Berry said. “We will be able to sell them throughout the year at adoption events, festival booths, etc. It’s a great way to introduce kids to EVHS and what we do.”

In addition to EVHS, “Where Best Friends Meet” is available for individuals to purchase for $20 at two Cartersville businesses: West on Main Bookstore and Southern Cove.

“We hope to add additional locations and eventually offer them online with shipping,” Berry said. “EVHS is not supported by any state or federal agency.

“EVHS derives operating funds primarily from adoption fees, donations and fundraisers, like this one and our annual Casino Night coming up on Feb. 17 — Paws Vegas. Without the community’s support, we wouldn’t be able to fulfill our mission. Every dollar makes a difference.”

A resident of White, Centers is the mother of three children, ranging in age from 18 to 25. Now 47, she moved to Bartow County from Upstate New York when she was 15 and later graduated from Cass High in 1995.

“I was creative and artsy since I was born,” Centers said. “Even as a kid, I was always making things. I’ve never been bored a day in my life because I’m always drawing, writing and making something.

“I realized I was an artist at 13 when I watched ‘The Little Mermaid’ and drew Flounder while it was on. I’ll never forget that moment. I went on to drawing Disney characters and studying their style. Drawing for Disney was my dream. Art got me through the crazy teen years, moving and many other moments in my life. I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

In describing her art style, Centers shared it fluctuates, ranging from illustration to folk art.

“I’m pretty simple — I do pen and pencil drawings,” Centers said. “I paint with acrylic. I enjoy doing folk art on wood and reclaimed items. I enjoy illustration art the most.”

Along with being her “peace,” she shared art has a meditative nature, enabling her “brain to shut off.”

“I’m completely drained and exhausted when I finish a piece, almost like I’ve ran for miles,” Centers said. “The feeling is hard to describe — it can be stressful and stress reducing at the same time. But when I finish a piece and am happy with it, it revives my energy and makes me want to paint more.

“I have to make myself sleep when I’m in the creative mode, which is probably quite common for most artists. My favorite part of being an artist is getting photos of my pieces from the recipient or hearing how it touched someone when they received it. It always reminds me why I’m an artist.”

Centers creates her artwork in a porch studio at her home.

“I have a neurological disease so I don’t get to leave my house much and painting helps me get through the days,” she said. “It keeps me going. I have an Instagram page — samanthac_art — where I share my art and get to be part of the online art community.”

Over the years, Centers has enjoyed highlighting well-known buildings throughout the county. Area residents can help bring some of these cherished structures to life by coloring Centers’ illustrations in “Where Best Friends Meet.”

“In 2015, I started doing paintings of houses for friends — that led me to painting favorite parts of Cartersville and my childhood hometown,” Centers said. “I found an even bigger appreciation for Cartersville and Bartow County small town life. I love the classic mom-and-pop places, like the 4 Way, Wes-Man’s, Ross Diner. I love The Grand Theatre. I love our downtown parades, the little shops and the farmers’ market.

“We are losing so many of our family-run businesses and beautiful historic buildings. I wanted to paint them as a tribute. I knew others were sentimental about the same things and I received so much response when I started painting iconic Cartersville landmarks.”

The positive reception to her artwork spurred her on to create additional pieces.

“Everyone has a favorite place, a special memory of a particular location,” she said. “That’s another of my favorite parts being an artist — hearing the stories and memories, like someone being proposed to at Barnsley, memories of going to the 4 Way or Ross for breakfast with their grandpa or going to see ‘The Nutcracker Ballet’ at The Grand Theatre every Christmas. Those stories go into my pieces as I work. You just don’t get that with reproduced items or big box stores.

“I’d eventually love to do a series of buildings and businesses that are no longer here. I’ve already started a list for that.”

As Centers noted, she is happy to see the community connect with her artwork.

“I hope my hometown art invokes a sense of small hometown appreciation and brings back a special childhood memory for them as well as encouraging everyone to support our small businesses,” Centers said. “I love to see downtown thriving like it is.”