US Painter Makes Another Trip to Saudi at The Age of 81

Published November 17th, 2021 - 09:06 GMT
Maris Shepherd
Maris Shepherd (

Maris Shepherd is an American artist who specializes in painting all things historic, from Saudi landmarks to farms and ancient ruins. 

“When I travel, I don’t look for brand new or modern, I look for the culturally classic architecture for each region of the world. I have been to 72 different countries now and I am always looking for the oldest and most classic area,” she explained to Arab News. 

The 81-year-old first visited the Kingdom in 1999 and 2000 to teach art and paint artworks commissioned by some of the most well-known figures in the region. Now, upon her return, she described Saudi Arabia as being unrecognizable from how it was two decades ago. 

“I think what struck me the most powerfully was how much bigger it is now, all the new buildings and the modernity of it is so sophisticated, you know, I’m very impressed with the way it’s grown,” she said. 

As a teenager, Shepherd was a draftsman, before shifting her work into watercolors when she began taking classes in her 30s. 

“I had three little kids at the time and my husband said he would stay with the kids that night one night a week if I wanted to go take the classes, which I did, and I started winning awards right away. I was good at it right from the beginning,” she said. 

Since then, she has studied watercolor technique with some of the best-known names in art, including Charles Reid, Millard Sheets, Robert E. Wood, Tony Couch, Ron Ranson and Tom Lynch.

“I think I always liked to look at watercolor at exhibits. I found that one reason that they’re so attractive to the viewer is because it’s transparent and you are looking through the pigment at the white paper and it reflects light back through the pigment like a stained glass window,” Shepherd said.

“In the beginning of my career, I painted things that I saw, I observed. I never made anything up,” she added.

The question many have asked her is how did an artist who studied architectural engineering in Texas and is a mother of three find herself creating commissioned artworks for members of the royal family in Saudi Arabia. 

“My cousin was working in Bahrain as a helicopter pilot and he found out that I taught my brother how to paint in Texas and he said, ‘When are you going to come here and teach me how to paint,’” she explained. 

Initially, Shepherd started her journey in the Gulf in Bahrain, before eventually transferring to Saudi Arabia with her cousin. She was based in Riyadh and continued to teach him how to paint.

Her journey didn’t end there, however, as she began teaching classes for many young female painters in the Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh. 

“I find an immense amount of talent in Saudi Arabia. The women that I’ve met are super-talented and I hope that they continue to develop and show their work. Maha Malluh, one of my students, is doing it in London and I think that little girls that grow up should be encouraged to draw and to paint,” Shepherd said. 

Her journey continued when she enlisted an agent in the Kingdom who owned many local art galleries. There, she was introduced to some high-profile individuals and she began to paint commissioned artwork for them. Among those figures was Prince Sultan bin Salman, the first Arab and Muslim astronaut. 

Shepherd shared that, at the time, there was a trend for square paintings rather than the traditional rectangular ones.


“My agent said to go out there, to Prince Sultan’s farm, and paint that farm and paint it square, and that was when I met Sultan,” she said. “He came to the farm when I was painting and he just stuck out his hand and he said, ‘Hi, I’m Sultan.’”

Shepherd explained that, after this humble introduction to Prince Sultan, she handed him a stack of a few of her paintings. “I had a pile of paintings I had already finished of the farm and he looked through them and at the time he told me he wanted to buy them, but it went over my head,” she said. 

She was going to exhibit them in her agent’s gallery, but instead Prince Sultan bought all of them from her. Until now, the paintings have never been publicly displayed. 

An exhibition at the Naila Art Gallery in Riyadh on Wednesday will mark the first time the 12 to 14 paintings of Prince Sultan’s farm have been put on show to the public since they were created more than 20 years ago. 

The paintings vary in technique and scenery, showing some of the different aspects of the prince’s farm. 

“The paintings are very realistic, they are a snapshot of each part of the farm that interested me,” Shepherd said. 

“Everything about the farm intrigued me. I love the waterfall and the old well and of course the interior of the farm. I loved that they had a grapefruit tree growing in the atrium,” she added.

Shepherd explained that, even 20 years later, during the COVID-19 pandemic when she couldn’t travel back to see the Kingdom, Prince Sultan would send her images he had taken for her to paint. 

“He bought many large works concerning his antique date palm farm in Riyadh. In the last few years, his royal highness has commissioned many large paintings (that were) shipped to Riyadh from Albuquerque, and now he is publishing a book about his farm and using many of my watercolors for illustrations.” 

Along with painting commissioned and personal works of art for members of the Kingdom’s royal family, Shepherd has also illustrated several children’s books and worked on dozens of projects close to her home.

“My work can be found in hundreds of private and corporate collections, including the State House of South Carolina, the University of South Carolina, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, and several banks in Fort Worth and New Mexico. Many members of the royal family of Saudi Arabia own my watercolors, as does the Saudi American Bank of Riyadh,” she said. 

A large collection of Shepherd’s work, featuring more than 50 paintings depicting historical landmarks and industries in Fort Worth, Texas, was commissioned by the Plaza Medical Center of Fort Worth. 

In her final remarks to Arab News, she explained that her favorite place to paint in the entire world is Jeddah and that she hopes her next visit will be to explore the south of the Kingdom.

“I like the Mashrabiya, the classic cultural icon, and I like the texture, the age. I like things that are old and so Jeddah was probably my favorite,” Shepherd said. 

“I’ve been to Yemen, so I know that architecture in the south, so I’d like to go south and see what Saudi has in that same vein,” she added.

This article has been adapted from its original source. 


Copyright: Arab News © 2022 All rights reserved.

You may also like


Sign up to our newsletter for exclusive updates and enhanced content