Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Education of Mr. Mayfield (copy)

All M. B. Mayfield could do for the longest time following his breakdown was open his eyes, close his eyes, and breathe.” Thus begins the third chapter of David Magee’s new biography titled, The Education of Mr. Mayfield: An Unusual Story of Social Change at Ole Miss.

M.B. Mayfield and his twin brother L.D. were born in 1923 amongst ten other children in a small shack outside of Ecru, Mississippi. The family sharecropped and all the children were free labor to an unloving stepfather. M.B. was a delicate, soft spoken young man unlike his boisterous twin brother. This caused a rift in the brothers where stepfather favored L.D. with chores around the house and forced M.B. to work in the fields.

One day M. B. woke to tremors in his hands. As he walked out to the fields he was a little shaky in his knees. He told no one as he took up the mule and began to plow. It was apparent after two rows something was horribly wrong. His legs locked up and he could not move an inch.

The doctor found a small lump on one of his lungs and he was placed on a week of bed rest. M.B. had tuberculosis, a common element in the family, and he was unable to do heavy labor ever again. It was during this time he lost interest in drawing his favorite comic strip characters or making up stories from the newspapers he could read insulating his home.

M. B. was depressed. The third chapter continues, “Time dissolved the way an unpicked melon seeps on an aging vine in the late-summer sun.”
It took the Holy Bible to get M.B. out of his funk. Upon reading a passage in Isaiah he took up a mantra, “They shall walk, and not faint.” Still too weak to work, he took up pen and pencil and began to draw. The more he drew, the more he wanted color and began to mix plants and flowers to make dyes for his art. M.B. was budding into a bona fide Mississippi folk artist.

Stuart Purser and his wife were touring the back roads of Mississippi when they came across a magnificent sight. Purser, new chair of an even newer art department at the University of Mississippi, sat staring at two concrete busts large enough to see from the road. On one side of the porch stairs sat Joe Lewis and on the other George Washington Carver.

The year was 1949 and Purser felt he had found a gold mine. It dawned on him the odd coincidence of finding an unknown artist in a town named after his favorite color, Ecru.

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