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Archive for Mississippi

sojourn . Old Salem School

Very often while I’m working in my studio, I think about this historic brick structure. It’s the “Old Salem School” off Highway 14 in Noxubee County, and I think of it because the work table I’ve made a habit of painting and block printing on came from the school. Mr. Cotton, the caretaker from the Noxubee County Historical Society, is a long-time family friend, and he gave the kids and me permission to go inside the very dilapidated building last summer. For years, every time we drove by it on the way to Busy Bee, I said I wanted to go inside and see the space. Last summer, we finally did it.

One reason the school is very interesting to me is that my grandfather went to elementary school there in the early 1920s. Not long ago, we were looking through an old lockbox from my grandmother’s house and found his diploma from Salem Consolidated School, promoting him to high school on April 17, 1925. The school is one of the earliest remaining public schools in Noxubee County, and was officially confirmed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.

The structure is basically a four room school house in a dog-trot type plan, with stairs in the center hallway and two large rooms on each side of both stories. On one side the rooms have been divided into smaller spaces connected through a series of doorways. My mother said that during some of the years the building was in use, one side was used as housing for teachers or caretakers.

Upstairs on the east side, the remnants of a corner stage area are still there, and as a child, my mom remembers going to community Christmas suppers held in the room with entertainment and even a visit from Santa Claus on the stage. After the building was no longer used as a school, it became sort of a community center available to the Salem community, including Salem Methodist Church and Concord Baptist Church. From the looks of the chalkboard we found inside, Sunday School classes and church meetings were sometimes held there, and my mom remembers going to birthday parties on the property as well.

During our visit, layers of peeling paint and cracked wall plaster revealed the bones of the building, and the aging patina of old chimney pipes, metal ceiling panels and cornices. And although it is in very severe disrepair, we could still see the remnants of wooden bead board chair rails, shiplap walls, movable classroom panels, and even the brass nameplates of families who donated money to install windows and other features. You can see from the angles in the shiplap photo below, that the building is just on the edge of being structurally sound. I’m afraid it may not last much longer, and I’m very glad we were able to visit when we did. It was interesting to see my children explore the space and to imagine someone going to school there. I hope I was able to impart to them the importance of historic buildings and remembering their significance to a community, especially as they listened to their grandmother talk about her own memories there.

After our visit, I nearly begged Mr. Cotton to allow me to rescue two of the last pieces of movable furniture I found there before they were overtaken with weather and falling down ceiling materials. Mom and I loaded an old six-foot wooden table into Dad’s pick-up along with a large chalkboard that was made to hang on sliding panels in the school classrooms. Underneath the graffiti writing of other explorers, the chalkboard still had names on a list titled “To-Day’s Record”, where Sunday School member attendance and offerings were recorded during years when the building was still in use. We brought the table home, cleaned decades of dust and insect friends from it, and added a little reinforcement to the legs to accommodate printmaking duties. It has become a treasured part of my daily studio activities, inspired by the knot holes and rusted nails as reminders of the heritage I imagine happened there. One of this summer’s projects will be to restore the chalkboard to hang in our entryway, and in the repainting, I plan to replicate that Sunday School secretary’s hand-writing as we create a space to document our own “To-Day’s Record.”

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Crooked Letter + Tough Questions

I’m thinking (and being wordy) about art and business and what’s mine and what’s yours today…

Being creative means juggling all kinds of influences and inspirations. Coming up with “original” ideas is actually kind of rare. The concept has been much discussed recently in light of political flaps surrounding the lifting other people’s words or ideas. I see posts from illustrators and artists I admire all the time bemoaning the lifting of their work to be produced without their permission or compensation. In the age of the internet and wifi and Google, the concept of “ownership” has certainly been watered down, or at least misunderstood.

As an artist, I think it’s important to balance the influence of others with a staunch respect for another person’s ownership of their own efforts. I’m thinking about it today because I came across at the Mississippi “Crooked Letter” design below in an Etsy shop called Hypsy Gypsy Boutique based in Purvis, MS — listed on July 8, 2016. The design bears some resemblance to my own block print design. It’s not the same, of course. It’s not an exact copy of mine. It’s just similar. I think what caught my eye is the apostrophe. The infamous apostrophe up there between the eM and the eye! I notice it because I’ve gotten a fair measure of lively discussion (some might say flack) about that apostrophe in my work and my choice in this piece to leave out one set of crooked letters to spell M’issippi rather than the “correct” way.

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Is it just a happy coincidence of two southern artists with the same cultural references? Is the design influenced by mine? Is it a knock-off? Is it a copyright violation? Does my design (and hers) somehow belong to the digital ether once I send it off for viewing on some platform via wifi? Tough questions.

The design of concern is a digital download sold for $2 with a few restrictions prohibiting use on mass produced products. Ok. It will never become the hand crafted pieces I make from the sheet of linoleum I carved and now print by hand on the work table in my office. So, maybe the answers don’t necessarily matter in the big picture.

Maybe. Or, maybe in a world of 128 characters, share buttons, and a meme a minute, the questions deserve a little more attention.

go . A Drive Through the Pass

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I’ve been organizing some photographs this week, and looking back through what I captured during our summer adventures. As I wrote a few weeks ago, we tacked a few days onto the beginning of our annual beach trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama to explore the Mississippi Gulf Coast again for the first time in quite a few years. It was fun to go driving through the area again, and I think we must have hit about every downtown area along Highway 98 from Bay St. Louis over to Ocean Springs. I do a lot of design work for the Main Street development organization in Starkville, and it’s always neat to see what other towns are doing to preserve their core areas. Downtown districts often have a lot of history and character — sometimes some blight, but they are areas where I think we can see some of the personality of a place. I thought I would share some of the sights from our trek over a few different posts.

On the Fourth of July, we spent the afternoon taking in Long Beach pier where my husband spent so much time during his younger years, and we also enjoyed a little driving and shopping in Bay St Louis. In between those two coastal towns, we took a much-needed snack break in Pass Christian! We didn’t spend much time there, but it only took a short turn off the beachfront highway to find some neat sights.

Our favorite stops included a quick photo op at the “Our Lady of Guadalupe” shrine at St. Paul’s Catholic Church — a sculpture created by Harry Reeks. I love the vibrant colors and the ruff-hewn look of the piece.

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We also found one of our new favorite cool-down places — the Pink Octopus, a decidedly “mod” little froyo shop on Davis Avenue. Coastal art, 60s-ish sphere seats, hot pink yogurt cups, metallic silver and turquoise, and of course, the yogurt! Can you tell we were excited? I know we’ll stop there again on our next trip to the Coast, and I hope we can explore a little more of what The Pass has to offer!

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Revisiting Long Beach

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When I was planning our summer, one of the things I wanted to do was take my kids to a few Mississippi places they hadn’t seen to give them more of a taste of our home state. When we scheduled our family vacation to Gulf Shores, Alabama last month, I decided to tack on a few extra days at the front end for us to wander through the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

My late husband, Mike, grew up on the Gulf Coast — in Long Beach, Mississippi — and I have bittersweet memories of only a few visits we made there, and of him sharing with me some of the things he enjoyed most about it. Although the Coast is only about five hours from our home in Starkville, before this summer, I had not been back to the area since we were there together. And, that was also a few years before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

For the Mississippi leg of our vacation, we stayed in Gulf Port, but did a lot of driving and exploring from Bay St. Louis to the west, all the way across to Ocean Springs to the east before heading over to Alabama. The trip brought up a lot of emotions for me. As with many things related to their Dad, I was a little apprehensive about showing the children some of the places that hold deep memories for me. At the same time, I was also excited to show them more about the things he loved and the place he lived as a child. They were so young when he died, and sometimes I think I need to fill in more of the picture they never got to experience with Mike. Of course, with anyone visiting the Coast for the first time since Katrina, I was very curious and apprehensive again about seeing the destruction and the changes it caused — even 10 years later.

It was actually a neat and cathartic experience to return to some of the places Mike showed me in on the coast, even with some of the huge changes caused by the hurricane’s destruction. The children were most interested in the simple details rather than any of the emotions about the places, and that was about my speed too.

We visited Shelter Rock Drive. Mike grew up in a small house on that block which is adjacent to Hwy 90. Although his childhood was filled with challenges, the neighborhood was a good spot, considering his love of wildlife, fishing and so many outdoor experiences. The lot on the corner of his street and Hwy 90 stood vacant since Hurricane Camille in 1969, when the house that was originally there was destroyed. Mike told stories of climbing the live oaks that remained on the lot during his childhood. During this first time back, my biggest glimpse of the reality of Katrina’s devastation was that Shelter Rock Drive is virtually just grass plots and concrete slabs almost grown over now. Not an easy sight to see, although I knew in my head it’s what I should expect.

Aside from driving around a little, the other place we visited in Mike’s hometown was the Long Beach fishing pier. Mike and I actually fished there a few times, which you can read as mostly Mike fishing and me dropping a few casts every now and then. Mike spent a lot of his youth fishing the pier and in some of the streams like Wolf River.
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The water in the Mississippi Gulf looks dirty. Mike taught me that it’s because it IS dirty. Not from lack of care, but because of the Mississippi River. The barrier islands trap water spilled into Mississippi Sound from the river and push it to shore. It makes for a “brackish” environment with its own wildlife and habitat. At least that’s my recollection of his explanation.

Mike taught me a lot of small details. And they’re all sometimes a little sketchy now…

Oleander is very pretty, but don’t ever use the stalks for a marshmallow roast because they are poisonous. The beaches on the Gulf Coast are actually man-made, and the native beaches were a lot more rocky. Deer Island almost touches the mainland in Gulf Port and he enjoyed camping there on occasion with friends. In the days before gambling was legal in Mississippi, the casino restaurant boats would sail out far enough to touch international waters in order to comply with the law. And folks on the boats tipped well. Crab cages have a trap crabs can crawl in, but not out. Crabbers drop their traps with a weight and line and come back hours later to haul in their catch. The water moccasins look just like hanging vines on Wolf Creek. “Floundering” uses this jabby thing on the end of a pole. Flounder have both their eyes on the same side of their body and if you slide your feet along the beach floor, you might stir one up. Fish from the pier really prefer live bait, but cold shrimp will do. Live bait shrimp aren’t pink. When somebody gets a hit on the pier, everybody watches him reel it in. There’s a tiny little jelly fish that washes ashore sometimes during low tide that makes the beach light up as you touch them. Pelicans fly long distances, see their prey from high up and take an amazing dive to grab it.

In our short visit to the pier, the children saw the same pelicans I did when Mike took me there. They looked across to Long Beach Harbor. They watched the daily fishermen cast out their nets with the weights on the end. I told them the same stories he told me and shared the details like I was a pro. Only, I’m not. I’m just trying to remember. The same as they are. All part of weaving together a life that only forms in our memories now.

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I’m so glad we took the time to revisit Long Beach this time — the first time for the children. Like priming a pump, the first time visiting what could be a difficult place draws out the opportunity for future experiences. I’m actually excited about taking them there again, and hoping they can find some of their own special places and memories in the place their Dad called home.

Stay tuned for a few more posts to come as I share more about our visit to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the Gulf Shores, Alabama area. We explored as many downtown areas across the coast as we could and found lots of fun places — small businesses, restored areas, museums, collections and more. Good memories!

grow . For the Love of Daffodils

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It’s daffodil season, the sure sign of spring, and I cut these from the backyard last week for my desk. I was particularly excited to see these this year because a few of them came from plants my great grandmother grew!

Our farm house has a collection of daffodil bulbs that bloom each year along the fencerow. It’s behind the house and separates the “yard” from the front pasture, and my grandmother planted them sometime when my mom was a child. There are also a row of them that usually sprout up in a line out in the side pasture marking the place where an old fence once stood. And then, randomly with almost inexplicable origins, there are some that tend to crop up across the road, next to ditches, and various other odd places around the yard. I’m not convinced on whether my grandmother planted those, or if they arrived by pure magic! These daffodils are ones we look forward to seeing when we make what’s become the annual spring break trek to the farm in search of carefree days (and muddy play, like this year).

One of the places where we play at the farm is the “hay yard” just down the road from our farmhouse, and its actually a cleared plot where my great-grandmother’s house once stood. I can vaguely remember the house, although it was long abandoned by the time I probably saw it. The house was the last home of my grandfather’s parents, and my mom remembers walking there to visit her grandmother and get orange slices. I guess that’s why more daffodils were there.

For the last year or two, we’ve noticed a huge number of daffodil bulbs blooming in the pasture on the south side of the hay yard, and I like to imagine my grandmother and great-grandmother planting a few that then started multiplying over the years. I suppose they’ve been there for much longer that we can remember seeing them, but our more recent pasture adventures brought us into close contact.

I’ve long wanted to dig up a collection of those daffodils to bring home and enjoy another piece of the farm in our own little garden spaces. Last year when we visited for spring break, we took the opportunity. We loaded up a pick-up truck bed practically full of daffodil bulbs with their blooms still in place and brought them back to Starkville to plant. You can see a few bonus shots of baby Sally “helping” with the planting in the photo evidence below!

This year, Sally is much bigger, and the daffodils have sprouted! Most of them have only put out greenery this year, which is common since we transplanted them while the blooms were still on. However, a few, like the ones above, have graced us with their yellow springtime goodness. I’ll be excited to see their progress next year when they are more accustomed to their new digs!

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client work . Spring Poster Projects

Posters are some of my favorite types of design projects, and I’m so blessed to have the opportunity to do quite a few of them each year, especially for area community events. Over the last few months, I’ve been able to use watercolor illustration for several poster projects, so I thought I’d share a quick recap of some of the pieces. Plus I’ve included glimpses of the behind-the-scenes paintings used to create them.

For this annual spring event series for the Starkville Convention & Visitors Bureau, I painted backgrounding and an illustration to represent each of the four events. The Savor Our South series poster included all four illustrations, and I used the bowl to create the event poster for Souper Bowl. I got my marching orders last week for the King Cotton Crawfish Boil, which (I think) will use this crawfish and corn illustration. I’ll be sure to share that poster when it’s complete.

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I was so pleased to be asked to create the 20th anniversary poster for the Market Street Festival in Columbus, Mississippi this year! I decided to create illustrations of some of the iconic images from Downtown Columbus, where the festival is held. For this one, it was also fun to hand-letter most of the text for the event specifics and used a few Free SVG Files to make it more vivid!

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Many times when I do posters or even stationery designs, I create a lot of individual illustrated images and use Photoshop to put them together — just like the process I shared recently for my lettering practice. For this holiday poster I was asked to create last fall for Starkville, however, I wanted to do an illustration of Main Street, so I created more of a true painting using watercolor and some acrylic paints. Then, I hand-lettered the text to add on top of the painting. This poster is one of my favorites!

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summer of water . monday 072114

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I’m about ten days away from the end of this summer painting adventure, and I’ve stumbled across so many ideas I’d like to explore further. For now, enjoy today’s sketch from some photographs of the Cotton District!

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Another building in the Cotton District in Starkville

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Corner of University Drive & Maxwell Street in the Cotton District — Starkville, MS

go . Post Office on Jefferson Street

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Hundreds of little metal doors with tiny windows marked with hand-painted numbers in red and gold. I have to admit it’s why I love to walk in the post office in Macon, MS. I wander in there every now and then when I’m visiting my parents hometown because it’s filled with interesting shapes and textures. And those little decorative, but time-worn doors.  They are so fascinating to me for some reason.

The lobby is a tiny L-shaped space where folks still come to check their mail. I’m not sure when the structure was built, but it has the tall, chicken-wire laced windows and warm woodwork you don’t often see in more modern public buildings. Plus, the north wall contains a painting created by Douglass Crockwell through the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, dated 1944.

Mr. Crockwell became a fairly popular artist in the 1940s-50s creating advertisements and cover art for some notable companies as well as the Saturday Evening Post. The work was created more specifically under the jurisdiction of the US Treasury Department in its Treasury Section of Fine Arts designed to offer artists commission work to create paintings and sculptures for public spaces in the 30s and 40s. The painting depicts the “Signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek.”

I imagine walking into the Post Office would be a lot like it was in the 1950s if it weren’t for the glossy posters touting first class mail and “forever” stamps. It still has hand-painted signs for the “office” part of the Post Office and the now-dissolved “Civil Service Commission”. The stained wood is still polished and pock-marked next to newer, more modern metal stands and the metal sliding door covering the postal counter.

Every time I wander in, I always wish for a tiny key to slip into box number 534 or some other sacred address to turn the lock and retrieve some treasured bit of correspondence.

[Macon Post Office, 201 Jefferson Street; Macon, MS]

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