Woman overcomes, opens own business
Franklin County resident Jessica Gandy Peppers has faced several trials and setbacks on her way to being the small business owner and talented artist she is today, but the upbeat owner of Peppers Art Patch in Russellville hasn’t let anything negative get her down no matter how big the challenge may have been.
Peppers started painting when she was just three years old and was encouraged by her mom, Jo Ann Gandy, to be creative.
“My mom poured plaster of Paris even before I was born, so she was really good to just let me do my own thing,” Peppers said. “My love for art just grew from there.”
Even though Peppers painted constantly growing up, she decided to get a degree in business once she graduated from high school in 2002. But her career choice didn’t stop her from taking a few art classes while she was in college.
“I took some classes with Dr. Crow at Northwest-Shoals Community College and he was very inspirational to me,” Peppers said.
She continued with her education and experienced several significant changes in her life, including getting married to Franklin County native Charlie Peppers and moving to Huntsville, before Peppers life was turned upside down.
“In 2004 I had to drop out of college because I couldn’t see at night and that’s when my classes were,” she said. “I had my eyes checked but my eyes weren’t getting any better.”
Peppers said she started working full time at a bank when she dropped out of school and started painting more to ease her stress.
“Painting relieved a lot of the pain and problems I was having,” she said. “I’m not a ‘Debbie Downer’ and I don’t like to dwell on things that are wrong with me so I just dealt with the situation the best I could. You just do what you got to do when you have to.”
Peppers continued dealing with the situation on her own, not thinking anything could be seriously wrong, but over the next few years, she started developing more symptoms like migraine headaches and uncontrollable motor functions.
“I was dropping things like the dishes at our house and throwing things when I didn’t mean to,” she said. “I started falling down and I needed Charlie to help me walk and do lots of things.”
Peppers was still living in Huntsville in 2009 when her friend Rhonda Olson, who she refers to as “Momma Rhonda,” told her she needed some serious help.
“Momma Rhonda’s daughter had just gone through brain surgery for a condition known as Arnold-Chiari malformation, which is described as a birth defect where the bone at the base of the brain is not fully developed and the brain goes down into your neck,” Peppers said. “Some of the symptoms of this condition were similar to things I was experiencing so when I told her I was going to the chiropractor, she told me I needed to just go and get an MRI.”
In July 2009, Peppers found out she too had Arnold-Chiari malformation and doctors tried treating it with physical therapy, but it was still getting worse.
“I finally went to Dr. Mark Hadley in Birmingham and he told me that I would have brain surgery and that he would fix me,” Pepper said. “On October 23, 2009, I went into a three-hour surgery at UAB Hospital with all my family waiting anxiously for me to get out.
“When the surgery was done, they took me to NICU. Before the surgery I had lost some of my speech but it started coming back almost immediately. As soon as I could get up, I took a shower all by myself, which is something I hadn’t been able to do. It was like waking up from a fog.”
Coming up on the two-year anniversary of her surgery, Peppers said she still experiences some mild symptoms, but she has come a long way since she first started having trouble in 2004.
“God is amazing and I am so blessed that I healed so well from my surgery,” Peppers said. “This situation really makes you think twice about judging people because you never know what they’re going through.”
Peppers and her husband and two children, Jerica and Colt, recently moved back to the area and Peppers was inspired by her friend, Cassidy Cooper, to open up her new art studio to the public so others could come in and enjoy painting.
“We live in a shoebox of a rental right now so there is not a place for me to do my painting, so Charlie said we could rent a space for me,” she said. “We found this space by the grace of God and Cassidy said that if I was going to have a studio, I should open it up and allow people to come in and paint.
“I was a little nervous at first, but I’ve been open to the public since June 11 and I’ve had a great response.”
Items that are kept in stock include canvases, ceramics, wood and ceiling tiles for painting. There is also a gift shop available with T-shirts, hair bows and other items. Walk-ins or private parties are welcome.
Peppers Art Patch is located in the shopping center across from Goody’s on U.S. 43 in Russellville next to Cotton States Insurance. Dates that are open for parties are listed on the front door. Current information can also be found by visiting Peppers Art Patch on Facebook or by calling 256-627-8468.