I met Kat McCall when a mutual friend of ours put us in touch about donating some of her time and artistic talent to a fundraiser I was organizing. I made the call and within the first five minutes of our conversation, Kat had not only agreed to help with a complete stranger’s vision but went above and beyond by turning my little fundraiser into a massive success that raised quite a bit of money for a local Augusta-based organization. Fast forward to a little over a year later. I received an invitation to write a story about a local painter and chronicle her journey from part-time artist and full-time nurse, wife and mother to full blown business owner on the brink of national success. That painter’s newly founded business was Kat McCall Papers, LLC and the owner-proprietor was of course, Kat McCall.
I wasn’t at all surprised by the news of Kat moving on to bigger and better things; after all; she is an extraordinary talent. But I was amazed to hear how Kat McCall Papers, which specializes in watercolor works on custom invitations, announcements, cards, stationery as well as fine art, had catapulted over the course of the past year, following our initial encounter. I was thrilled to take the job and called Kat immediately. I started things off by thanking her again for what she had done for me in the past, and her answer was a brief and humble one. “Anyone would have done it,” she said.
“No,” I told her. “Not anyone would.” I knew that for a fact due to how many rejections I’d already received before I picked up the phone and finally asked her to get involved. Not everyone would spend the considerable amount of time and effort it takes to create art—to immerse themselves into a project with such passion and vigor—to just give it away. Kat did, and that piece of insight leads into the story of a woman who fits perfectly into this country-wide awakening—revolution, if you will—of powerful women finally stepping into the foreground of the business world. Now I’m proud to say that Augusta has yet another one to call our own.
I got the chance to sit down with Kat at a coffee shop to get the full story, and like most success stories, it was the type I like to call the 20-year trip to overnight success.
Kat is a native of Newnan, Ga., but received her bachelor’s degree in biology—with a minor in art—from Converse College, in Spartanburg, S.C. Her original educational track included medical school, but Kat says that her heart was never really in it. “I literally got up and walked out of the MCAT testing. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. I didn’t know at the time exactly what it was I did want to do back then but I was sure that being a doctor wasn’t it.” Kat did, on the other hand, attend nursing school at Emory, and it was during these formative years that Kat met the man who would soon become her husband—a studious young engineer named George McCall, working on his master’s degree in Atlanta. Kat and George were eventually married, had two children—Trent and Mac—and relocated to George’s hometown of Augusta in 2006 where Kat continued down the path she’d dedicated a considerable amount of her adult life to already, being a wife and mother. “I’d stopped working to homeschool both of my children,” she went on to say. “Being the best mom and the best wife I could had become my calling, so I went at it with everything I had. I knew the whole time I was raising my family that there was something else inside me yearning for something more, but I’ve always believed, and still do now, that if you’re going to do a job, then you should do it to the best of your ability.”
I asked if she regretted not acting on her creative impulse during those early years and she told me no without any hesitation. However she did dabble in different artistic mediums during what little free time she had, looking to give a name to the nagging ache in her chest that all artists are familiar with. “I got into photography and I did some writing, but nothing really quite fit.” I equated her telling me of that experience to a woman trying on different dresses for a formal gala—some of them will do in a pinch; some of them have a certain appeal for different reasons—but there’s one out there waiting to be tried on that fits like a dream, as if it were tailored just for that event just for her. Kat never found that perfect dress back then, but she did settle on oil-painting as her prime medium. It became her first real love affair with art. “But even then,” she said, “I knew it was just a fling.” It would never trump her top priority, her family.
She went on to explain her point of view in a way only someone who clearly loved botany classes while studying biology could. “The world plants two rows of hedges for everyone. Those hedges create a path right down the middle custom made for you and that path is there for a reason.” Those hedges also happen to obscure the view, but Kat started walking down her path blind. “Sure,” she admits. “It can be hard. It can be frustrating—even lonely at times. There were a few times when I found myself crying in the laundry room over something ridiculous just from the stress of it all, but I figured something out early on—and if there is anything I hope people take away from my experience [it’s] that it takes great strength and even greater courage to stay the course.” Some people might have to try harder than others to fight the urge of breaking through those thorny hedges before their path turns into a clearing, but by not following through, you take the risk of not only being cut up by the bramble, but never reaching that clearing waiting for you after a job well done. Kat stayed the course.
Once her boys had gotten older, Kat went back to work as a nurse, leaving her ambitions of being a full-time artist to take an even smaller piece of the backseat. But the interesting part of Kat’s philosophy of staying the course, or as she has often put it, “Living the thoughtful life,” is that those sacrifices tend to pay off. After selling a few paintings, studying under the tutelage of local mentors, and completing various other projects—like helping a first-time novelist organize a fundraiser—Kat was commissioned by Cheatham, Fletcher & Scott Architects to produce an 18-piece set of botanical-themed paintings for a private collection. That huge commission led to exclusivity deals with local businesses and now world-renowned establishments.
Doors kept opening and Kat didn’t hesitate to step through them. And with each new opportunity came the confidence and the belief in herself to make the final and most frightening step. Inspired by her younger sister, Allie Balling, and her successful marketing business, AllieWay Marketing, coupled with the generous support of her family and the Augusta community, a 55-year-old, relatively self-taught painter quit her well-paying job at the hospital and reinvented herself as the owner/operator of Kat McCall Papers. To which I have no doubt, will be added to the ever-growing list of incredible offerings Augusta and the state of Georgia is becoming known for.
I asked Kat about when it hit her that she was now, for the first time in her life, her own boss, and she told me about a day she and George attended a football banquet at Augusta Prep and she happened to be in need of a graphic designer. A friend, also attending the banquet, pointed to a young man named Ryan Bacheller who had just recently gotten into the business. Kat immediately got up, walked over to the young man, and offered him a job. “That’s the moment it struck me. I just hired someone. It felt incredible. Everything felt in sync. I’ve always been happy, but this new joy had boiled over into every aspect of my life. And isn’t that what success is?” I had to agree.
When I asked George his take on his wife’s new career, his reply was simple and classic. “I’m looking forward to being a trophy husband.” And from what I’ve seen so far, he’s going to get his wish.
Kat McCall Papers products can be purchased exclusively from Charleston Street Fine Flowers.Kat will also be holding a solo exhibition at Sacred Heart Cultural Center in Downtown Augusta on April 12th through April 30th
Her current work can be found on Instagram @katmccallpapers
Article appears in the April 2018 issue of Augusta Magazine.