Crouched in a corner of the Brookfield High School gym, Audrey Hughes Bell raises her Canon camera and snaps shots of the boys basketball team as they play Lakeview.
“This is a good position,” she said, as she waits for the action to come back to her end of the court.
Bell is a frequent denizen of a corner of the football field, the baseball diamond and the wrestling mat. If there’s a student concert, she’s usually there, seeking out other good positions, her Canon firing away.
These photos often end up on her AHB Studio Facebook page.
“I tell them, ‘Just go on there and take what you want,’” Bell said of the photos she posts. “They call me up, ‘Are we allowed to use that?’ ‘It’s there for you.’ That’s why I do it, for the kids. I love the kids.”
This sense of community-mindedness extends to other aspects of the school, and into the greater community.
“I donate a lot,” Bell said. “There’s a lot of fundraisers for the school and the sports and the different things, and people that need help with medical things. They’ll come to me and I’m like, ‘Yeah, what do you want?’ I donate cards or prints, a basket with the cards or something.”
Bell recently took a job as a full-time custodian at the school after several years of driving a school bus. When not working, being a mom to her three kids or tending her horses, chickens and “too many dogs and too many cats,” she’s a photographer and artist, corralling subjects into photo shoots, working commissions, taking senior photos and creating her own work.
Outside of her school-related pieces, Bell probably is best known for photographing and drawing and painting horses.She grew up in Hubbard Township on what is now the Hughes Arabians farm, where her sister, Pauline Hughes, raises rare black and Egyptian black Arabian horses.
“When she sells a horse, they’ll (buyer) get a print with the horse, so they have these collected all over,” Bell said.
Hughes said she frequently sells her horses to buyers in the Middle East, but also to China and other parts of Asia and Europe.
“People tell me they have them (prints) displayed in their offices or their homes,” Hughes said.
“Sometimes, at Christmas, she’ll send them a greeting card that we’ve designed,” Bell said. “We’ve been doing that for, like, 25 years.”
Bell’s work, as a feature artist and in advertisements for Hughes Arabians, has appeared in magazines such as Arabian Horse World, Country Life and the Top Spot.
Bell said she always has been “into” art, and a middle-school teacher pointed out that she had talent. She graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, where she studied commercial art, photography, air brush painting, advertising art, paste-up art and some computer art. She has worked professionally in varying degrees ever since, currently maintaining an eBay store to sell her work.
“People tell me, ‘You did this painting for me’ and I don’t even remember,” Bell said. “I’ve done so many pieces, I don’t even remember any of them.”
Her favorite pieces often are made into limited edition prints and greeting cards.
“I like designing the cards,” she said. “I like doing other people’s, too. I’ll do my friends’ that do photography.”
Bell’s favorite subjects include lighthouses, sunrises and birds, but she has a special affinity for horses.
“I just have a passion for the horses,” said the owner of four horses, a minihorse and a pony. “I love mine. When it’s snowing out, real pretty, nice day, I just want to go out and jump on them and go down through the woods and get lost.”
Bell, who worked at a fish cannery in Alaska as a young woman, has work displayed at the Art and Frame Gallery in Hermitage and has had occasional shows, but is too busy to pursue them these days, she said.
“It’s hard,” she said of balancing all the things she does. “My friends say, ‘You’re a machine.’ ‘No, I’m not. My battery’s going dead. You better find where to change them.’”
Still, if there are kids involved, she will do her best to make the time.
“I love the kids,” she said.