By Anne McKee
The Meridian Star
Why has the world just learned of Mississippi-inspired-art? It’s an amazing question – Mississippian’s have been creating art of all forms since before statehood. Not being recognized for artistic greatness is not new in the state that has beaten the odds; the odds of survival.
It’s as simple as this — Mississippians live and breathe; Mississippians create art.
Mississippi history is filled with art; from Choctaw baskets, double-weaved and created with swamp cane, to cornhusk dolls made to delight the heart of a Mississippi settler’s daughter, to the strumming of a cigar box guitar, early Mississippian’s expressed the longings of their souls, which are termed art in every facet of the word. Today, the art in Mississippi continues in a mighty way.
What’s it all about – this Mississippi affinity for art? Is it in the water, found swirling through the pines, seeping from the red clay dirt, flowing from the Gulf breezes, squishing in the Mississippi mud formed in Old Man River, or found inside the deep yearnings and great hope of the people?
The answer is YES – all of the above.
Mississippi Artists, All Categories – Past and Present
The early 1900s brought forth the talents of world-famous folk artist, Alice Moseley. The painter settled in a small, blue house located in Bay St Louis creating her works of art. She once said. “The house may be blue, but the old lady ain’t.”
In the early 1900s, Walter Anderson, painter, writer, and naturalist created his lyrical water colors inspired by the nature and habitat of Horn Island located in the Gulf of Mexico.
Known as the “Mad Potter of Biloxi,” George Ohr, an unconventional potter, began experimenting with vivid colors and unusual shapes and patterns to develop a style of pottery never before seen. He accomplished his work during the mid-1900s by using all local clays.
Mississippi is the birthplace of America’s Music, no doubt. Country, Blues, Rock and Roll, Gospel – the signature sounds that rolled from the hearts and souls of Mississippians are the true product of the southern cultural. We Meridianites especially pay homage to a man on a train that yodeled and yearned for his native state. Yes, Jimmie Rodgers, known as Father of Country Music, put Meridian and Mississippi on the map during the 1920s and his popularity and music style has remained a constant through the years.
Elvis, a kid from Tupelo, known as King of Rock and Roll, shocked the world with his shakes, rattles, and rolls. Once everyone recovered from “the visual” of Elvis, then his tender voice and the unique presentation of his vocals again put Mississippi on the map. The Mississippi Delta Blues was influenced by African roots, field hollers, ballads, church music and rhythmic dance tunes called jump-ups. The music evolved as a field hand singer sang a line that someone with a guitar would answer. Early Blues entertainers included Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and many others whose names have been lost to history. The Mississippi Delta Blues is the root genre of every popular musical category today.
Names synonymous with award-winning written work are sprinkled though out Mississippi. Eudora Welty, 1973 Pulitzer Prize winner for “Death of a Traveling Salesman” and Tennessee Williams, also a Pulitzer Prize winner (1948) for “A Streetcar Named Desire” are just a small part of the list. Added to the list are Richard Wright (“Black Boy”), Margaret Walker Alexander (“Jubilee”), Willie Morris (“My Dog Skip”), and of course, William Faulkner, who was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize for Fiction and the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, plus several additional literary awards for his work.
Entertainers, Actors, TV Personalities
Jerry Clower, Morgan Freeman, Jim Henson, James Earl Jones, Diane Ladd, Lee Ann Rimes, Faith Hill, Sela Ward, Oprah Winfrey, Shepard Smith, Sam Haskell, and many others – too many to list today in this column, but all have added significantly to the Mississippi arts communities.
So, what do you think? Which came first -- Mississippi or Art?
Anne McKee is a writer and storyteller. Visit her website: www.annemckee.net