Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Mississippi Story (copy)

Mississippi Museum of Art moved into a new facility on South Lamar in Jackson last year. June marks a full year of displaying artwork by and for Mississippians in this location. Fully intending to visit, I bide my time with The Mississippi Story: Mississippi Museum of Art edited by Robin C. Dietrick and written by Patti Carr Black.

Like a catalog one might receive at the opening of an exhibition, this book gives full illustration to over 100 items in the museum’s collection. Displayed under the art work, one gets typical descriptive information such as name of artist, title of piece, date of completion, media used (oil, watercolor, clay, bronze, etc.), and size of piece. Each illustration is in color and the sizes vary, but remain easily visible to readers.

As with all great ideas, the museum began with a group of interested artists and community leaders in the Jackson area. The Art Study Club first exhibition of Mississippi art appeared at the state’s fair in 1903. By 1911, they incorporated to become the Mississippi Art Association (MAA), the forerunner to today’s museum. Within the history section is a lovely portrait of the first MAA President, Bessie Cary Lemly, by Karl Wolfe.

The main body of the book is truly Mississippi history through art. Author Black defines Mississippians’ “sense of place” with quotes from local writers. Beginning with Eudora Welty’s, “It seems plain that the art that speaks most clearly, explicitly, directly and passionately from its place or origin will remain the longest understood.” These places are the Delta, the Hill Country, Jackson’s central area, the River Country, the Piney Woods, and the Gulf Coast.

Within each section, one gets a brief history of the area followed by artists in chronological order from earliest to latest. Unfortunately, some of the biographies sound like a resume than personal. Works with bios include: Marie Hull, Wyatt Waters, David Rae Morris, Eudora Welty, Obie Clark, John McCrady, William Hollingsworth, William Dunlap, Theora Hamblett, and so forth.

More than a catalog of museum works, this nine by nine inch book strives to relate the importance Mississippi art has on the world. Too often our state’s creative artists have taken a backseat to the extraordinary talents of other Mississippians in literature, music, and memoir; significantly, they have fled to the appreciative cities of Seattle, Tampa, and New York.

Now the tide has turned, and the art world is looking to the South for inspiration. If one is unable to travel to Jackson—grab this book—take the tour from the comfort of your own rocking chair.

Note: First book for Joy's Non-Fiction Five Challenge!

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