The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: the face jugs of Michael Keen

Opening today, May 2, 2016, at the Vancleave Public Library is an exhibition of ceramic pots and face jugs by Michael Keen, a self-taught potter in Vancleave, Mississippi. He calls his series of recent face jugs “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” for their angelic, devilish, or disfigured features and characteristics.

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The Good. stoneware, 12 inches high. Copyright (c) the artist. Photo courtesy of Michael Keen.

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The Bad. approximately 13 inches high. Copyright (c) the artist. Photo courtesy Michael Keen.

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back view of The Bad. Copyright (c) the artist. Photo courtesy Michael Keen.

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The Ugly. 10 inches high. Copyright (c) the artist. Photo courtesy Michael Keen.

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Back view of The Ugly. Copyright (c) the artist. Photo courtesy Michael Keen.

Born in New Orleans in 1957, Michael Keen’s family lived on the East Coast until 1967, when his father retired from the U. S. Coast Guard. At age 10, Keen moved with his parents to Pascagoula, where his mother and father first met.

“I was enrolled into a correspondence course in the early 70s with ‘Famous artist course’ of Westport Connecticut,” Keen writes in an email. “This taught me drawing techniques and eventually led me to painting. After graduating high school I followed in my father’s footsteps and join the U. S. Coast Guard.”

(Click on the artworks below to view the titles.)

Eager to build upon his correspondence-course education in art, Michael Keen met some of the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s most accomplished artists, including Dusti Bongé. He writes about her influence:

I read her book in the early 80s and contacted her to tell her how much I enjoyed her abstract paintings. She thanked me and invited me over several times to her watercolor studio on the beachfront and to her primary oil studio to critique some of my work. She taught me to stay loose in a painting not to take it too far. She also taught me to write a poem or a little story about each painting as she did in her book. She signed one of her books for me, and wrote keep up the good work! I wish now I would have negotiated a purchase of one of her paintings.
Another talent I met in the late 70’s was Peter Anderson, at Shearwater Pottery in Ocean Springs. It was great to see a man doing what he loved and was able to support his family at the same time. I am friends with Jim Anderson; he and I both served in the U. S. Coast Guard.

“I have been making pottery off and on for the past 25 years,” he says. “Since I’m self-taught on the potter’s wheel, I fall into the Folk Potter category.”

Keen’s exhibition will be up for the month of May. For more information about his pottery, contact the artist at Mikemkeen@yahoo.com.

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Michael Keen’s studio in Vancleave

 

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Michael Keen and his high school sweetheart have been married for 41 years. Here they are visiting the Smokey Mountains.

All artwork is copyright (c) Michael Keen. Photos are courtesy of Michael Keen and are used with permission.

Artist David Howell

David Howell, Peacock Island, ca. 2006. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Peacock Island, ca. 2006. artwork (c) the artist.

Growing up with a mother who was an artist, David Howell (born 1952), a painter in Philadelphia, Mississippi, recalls sleeping beside a Rousseau-inspired mural in the childhood room he shared with his brother, Mark: “We had bunk beds, and I was bottom bunk and the lion in that painting was right by my head. Always. And the eyes were always. . . you know they were real strong. I loved that, that painting, and I loved that wall.”

He remembers always creating and seeing the abstract paintings that his mother, Millie Howell, and her friends were producing. “So we had a good dose of, you know, what could be possible, not just . . . [put] in a box. . . you can be whatever you want to be.”

David Howell, Ant Movies, ca. 2006. mixed mediums. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Ant Movies, ca. 2006. mixed mediums. artwork (c) the artist.

Except from learning from his mother, who encouraged her children to draw outside the lines, he didn’t have any formal art training until he went to the Memphis Art Academy.  Howell says that one year of art school “drove the creation right out of me.”

Several years later, to pursue a dream of being a comedy writer, he enrolled at Ole Miss and studied English. “I was there for two years, and I took creative writing. Ellen Douglas was my teacher.”

In 1982, he moved to New York City. His brother’s friend, the saxophonist George Cartwright, knew that David Howell was looking for work as a painter and told him, “Okay, I got my boss. He’s going to call you up, and he’s going to ask you if you know how to glaze walls, and you tell him yes.” Despite not knowing what glazing walls meant, he got the job and tells this story about the first day of his career as a faux-finish painter:

So the address was right across the street from Central Park and the Guggenheim Museum. Top floor suite. It was Mort Zuckerman’s apartment. Mort Zuckerman used to [own] U.S. News and World Report at the time. And also at the time he was dating Gloria Steinem so there’s pictures of him and Gloria Steinem all over the apartment.

So I walked in. There’s like 20 people, and the place was a madhouse. Everybody’s doing everything. There’s all these craftsmen doing different things. And, so, I walk in. George is there, and Mark, the boss, and he was having a heated discussion with one of the decorators. But anyway, they kept talking about this word, faux bois. ‘Faux bois, faux bois, faux bois.’ I kept thinking, ‘What the hell is faux bois?’

And I asked George, ‘What’s this word, faux bois? What the hell is that?’

[George] says, ‘Well that’s fake wood.’

[I] said ‘Yeah, so what is that?’

‘So we’re going to paint this wood to look like another kind of wood.’

I said, ‘Wait a minute. It’s already wood.’

‘Yeah.’

‘So we’re going to paint it to make it look like another kind of wood.’

He said ‘Yeah.’

I thought, ‘Man, only in New York City would people pay other people to paint wood to look like another kind of wood.’

And we had these guys from England would come over. And at the time, London had the only school of faux finishes. And they would show us different techniques. And after a while, I’m painting wood to look like another kind of wood. And it was, you know, the best learning experience I ever had. The best crew I’ve ever worked with. . . . everybody was either a writer, a musician or something else, you know.

David Howell, Deep Sea Summer. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Deep Sea Summer. artwork (c) the artist.

Howell loved working as a faux finisher, but was ready to return to Mississippi after about five and a half years in New York. In his home state, in addition to faux finishing and painting exteriors and interiors of homes, he was commissioned about a year an a half ago to create a mural for Dick Molpus’ cabin. The result was five panels, each four feet by eight feet, of the history of the four-corners area of Neshoba, Leake, Attala, and Madison counties.

David Howell, study for murals at Dick Molpus cabin in Philadelphia, MS. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, study for murals at Dick Molpus cabin in Philadelphia, MS. artwork (c) the artist.

Before the mural commission, though, Millie Howell went behind her son’s back and entered one of his paintings in the Meridian Museum of Art’s BiState Art Juried Competition, one of the oldest juried art competitions in the region. It was selected, and she surprised him on his birthday, some years ago on January 11, with the acceptance card. His painting won an award that year, and his work continued to be shown in future competitions. He also shows at the Neshoba County Fair, where he laughs about the chicken wire separates the viewer from the artwork, and at Horne Gallery in Meridian. 

David Howell, Modern Moon Bride Magazine, 2001. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Modern Moon Bride Magazine, 2001. artwork (c) the artist.

He prefers layering colors, textures, and even objects onto canvas. He explains,

I use spray paints. I like the immediacy of a spray paint. I like spraying on top of another color. Combing through it. Wiping it away. Doing another color. Just putting the objects on top of objects. Blocking things out. And I’ve gotten pretty good at controlling the spray from. . . close, far away, whatever. I’ll stand over the canvas and paint that way.

David Howell, Spectral Forest, 2015. mixed mediums. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Spectral Forest, 2015. mixed mediums. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Who Ordered the Chicken. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Who Ordered the Chicken. artwork (c) the artist.

In addition to paintings with humorous titles, like Who Ordered The Chicken, David Howell also paints his cats. “I thought they should deserve just as much attention as a portrait,” he says.

David Howell, Self Portrait. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Self Portrait. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Bob and Scoob Are Accidentally Abducted. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Bob and Scoob Are Accidentally Abducted.

David Howell

David Howell, January 2016, Philadelphia, Mississippi

More of David Howell’s work can be seen and ordered as Giclée prints on the website Society6.com/davidhowell.

Happy Birthday to Artist Millie Howell

“Well, I usually start with a line or a color. . . .  I just let the painting speak and one line, one color, another, another, another line. I actually kind of, when it becomes really very beautiful, I decide that I have to kind of destroy it a little bit. I have to take a leap of faith. I take a leap of faith. . . .  I don’t want it to be too pretty.”

Millie Howell, Abstract Expressionist painter

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Millie Howell, Homage, ca. 1979

I’ve never walked into a house quite like that of Millie and Boots Howell in Philadelphia, Mississippi, with its mosaic floors, a living vine spanning the kitchen ceiling, and a sophisticated but informal mix of color and pattern that somehow does not make the paintings and shelves of ceramics (including two plates decorated by Walter Anderson and several other Shearwater pots) seem out of place.

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Boots and Millie Howell in their kitchen

(The interior reminded me of artist Miriam Weems’ old house on Euclid Street in Jackson. Like Howell, Miriam Weems loved color and people, so there was always a comfortable place to sit and visit.) Speaking of Millie Howell’s relationship to color, she received the Best Use of Color award during Mississippi Art Colony a few years ago. At Mississippi Art Colony, she has won the most number of awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, of any other Colony member.

Millie Howell, Indian Princess

Millie Howell, Indian Princess. Copyright (c) the artist.

Born January 13, 1927, in Meridian, Howell attended workshops at Allison’s Wells from artists including Hugh Williams, Alvin Sella, and Ida Kohlmeyer. She said that the direction she received from them was the encouragement she needed to continue painting, especially in the early stages of her career. She remembers three specific pieces of advice from Ida Kohlmeyer:

  1. Less is more.
  2. When there’s one more thing to do to a painting, don’t.
  3. Don’t be commercial and slick.

“Taking the waters” did not interest Millie Howell when she went to Allison’s Wells, which was a resort with natural springs. She went only to make art. She remembers meeting Eudora Welty and Hosford Fontaine, who owned the resort with her husband, John Fontaine, Jr. Chuckling, Howell recalls being there with Marie Hull:

I painted alongside with Marie at the Allison’s Wells. . . . She was a very good artist. . . .  In fact, I think she has a painting of lilies, spider lilies. Actually, I had done a painting of lilies before that. Bess Dawson, who was a wonderful artist, she said, ‘Millie, Marie has copied your lilies!’ It’s so funny!

Marie Hull’s 1967 painting of spider lilies was recently exhibited in Bright Fields: The Mastery of Marie Hull, which ran September 26, 2015 – January 10, 2016, at the Mississippi Museum of Art.

To read the titles for the above artworks by Millie Howell, click on an image.

In addition to the instructors through the years at Mississippi Art Colony, Howell was inspired by the work of Joan Mitchell. She also clearly recalled the impact of seeing Vincent van Gogh’s paintings and drawings in person at the Art Institute of Chicago in early 1950. She said that after seeing the work of Jackson Pollock and Robert Rauschenberg when she and Boots went to New York in the 1950s, “It was just such a wonderful time that I really got hooked on that.”

Above are stained glass windows designed and crafted by Harriet Deweese (1901-?) on the left and by Millie Howell on the right. The windows are in St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church, which was constructed by Boots Howell in 1964. Millie Howell had never created anything in stained glass prior to making this window.

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Millie Howell (left) and Harriet Deweese stand in front of the newly built St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, MS, in 1964. Howell’s window is visible in the upper right quadrant of the photograph. Mrs. Millicent Howell and Mrs. Harriet DeWeese, Clayton Rand papers, Manuscripts Division, Special Collections Department, Mitchell Memorial Library, Mississippi State University.

I had read in Art in Mississippi by Patti Carr Black about the “Philadelphia group” of Harriet Deweese, Millie Howell, and Lallah Perry (1926-2008). “All three embraced experimental ideas,” Black writes.* When I asked Howell about the group, she talked of Deweese and Perry as accomplished artists and as friends.

Millie Howell won Best in Show with her painting, From Paris to Arles, in the Meridian Museum of Art’s Bi-State Art Competition in 2012.**  When her son-in-law was a pilot for American Airlines, she and Boots had stand-by tickets and flew first class to France at least once. “I was influenced by the South of France,” she said.

She no longer goes to Mississippi Art Colony as both she and Boots have had to give up driving, but she is still painting in her loft studio at her house. She turned 89 today. Happy Birthday, Millie Howell.

*Black, Patti Carr, Art in Mississippi: 1720-1980. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998), 246-247.

**Myers, Debbie Burt, “Howell’s ‘From Paris to Arles’ captures top bi-state art award,” The Neshoba Democrat on the Web, December 11, 2012, http://neshobademocrat.com/Content/NEWS/News/Article/Howell-s-From-Paris-to-Arles-captures-top-bi-state-art-award/2/297/27735#sthash.jcpmyF6x.dpuf.

All artworks are copyright (c) Millie Howell.

Millie Howell & son, David Howell

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Portrait of Millie Howell by Homer Casteel (1919-1972)

On Monday, I was in Philadelphia, Mississippi, at the home of artist Millicent “Millie” Howell. Born in 1927 in Meridian, she may be the only living artist who attended art workshops at Allison’s Wells resort in Way, Mississippi. The tradition of artists gathering twice yearly to study with a guest artist became known as Mississippi Art Colony. It met at Allison’s Wells from 1948 until 1963 when the resort burned. Millie Howell participated in the Mississippi Art Colony in the spring and fall of every year, she says, until the past couple of years.

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Photograph of Millie Howell by Florence Mars, who wrote Witness in Philadelphia (1977), about the murders of three civil-rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. Mars was a native of Philadelphia. Her obituary is on the websites of NPR and The Washington Post.

 

Millie’s son, David Howell (b. 1954), is also an Abstract Expressionist painter. After a career in New York as a faux-finish painter, he returned to his hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi. In Mississippi, he continued to work as a faux-finisher and returned to fine art painting. In recent years, he has exhibited at the Neshoba County Fair, at the Meridian Museum of Art’s Bi-State Art Competition, and at the Horne Gallery in Meridian.

I’ll post images of Millie’s and David’s paintings very soon: hopefully tomorrow. In the meantime, has anyone seen other photographs by Florence Mars?

p’Artake 44: Ocean Springs Art Association Fall 2015 Exhibit & Sale

Also at the Peter Anderson Festival in early November, I saw one of the ancillary exhibitions, p’Artake 44: Ocean Springs Art Association Fall 2015 Exhibit & Sale, at the Ocean Springs Community Center. Surrounded by Walter Anderson’s murals were an impressive number of artworks in the 44th annual exhibition, which ran from October 30 through November 14, 2015.

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p’Artake 44: Ocean Springs Art Association Fall 2015 Exhibit & Sale, at the Ocean Springs Community Center

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Walter Anderson’s murals cover the walls of the exhibition space.

Carole Marie, who is president of the Ocean Springs Art Association (OSAA), showed me one of her artworks in the show.

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Carole Marie, Tree in Moonlight #2, mixed mediums. copyright (c) the artist.

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Artist Carole Marie with her trademark purple-dyed American Indian-style braid

Carole Marie exhibits at The Art House, the cooperative gallery for members of OSAA. She works in a variety of mediums and genres, but the subject matter of classic cars is prominent in most of her current work, according to her promotional flyer and a Knight Foundation blog post, “New exhibitions at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art feature cars and parades,” written by By Barbara Johnson Ross, Ohr-Ohr’O’Keefe Museum of Art, in October 2014.

Here are two other artists I met at the OSAA exhibition: Ellen Ellis Lee and Debra Baldinger.

Ellen Ellis Lee with artwork

Ellen Ellis Lee and her mixed mediums artwork entitled Willie Ann Wasp. artwork copyright (c) the artist.

Debra Baldinger portrait

Artist Debra Baldinger stands in front of one of her drawings (clearer picture of artwork is below).

Here are more of the artworks that were on view. (To read the captions with artists and titles, click on the image.)

All images used with permission of the Ocean Springs Art Association.

Peter Anderson Festival, Day Two

Sunday of the Peter Anderson Festival in early November was not as rainy and gave me time to meet time to meet a few more of the 400 (!) artists who had booths.

Ceramicist Casey Ginn won Best of Show at the 2014 festival and returned to the festival this year. He told me all about studying art under Sammy Britt and Malcolm Norwood at Delta State University back in the… seventies?

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Ceramic pot by Casey Ginn. Copyright (c) the artist.

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Artist Casey Ginn

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More artwork by Casey Ginn. Copyright (c) the artist.

One of the festival booths belonged to Steven Dark, who sculpts ceramic heads and face jugs and, after firing them, turns them over to Mother Nature.  He submerges them in the Gulf of Mexico near his “Pottery Central World Headquarters” in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Crustaceans encrust on the surface, leaving growths and wormy lines on the heads. Yes, he’s an Alabamian, but he was in Mississippi for the festival, and I wanted to show you his work.

Artwork by Steven Dark. Copyright (c) the artist.

Artwork by Steven Dark. Copyright (c) the artist.

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Artwork by Steven Dark. Copyright (c) the artist.

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Artwork by Steven Dark. Copyright (c) the artist.

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Sam Williams, a ceramicist from Monroeville, Alabama, visits the booth of Steven Dark, who shows us a face jug with a limerick inscribed on the back.

Early on at the festival, I ran into Vicksburg residents Becky and Randy Jolly and Lesley Silver.

Educator Becky Jolly; Attic Gallery owner and artist Leslie Silver; and Randy Jolly, artist and Director of Gore Galleries in the Mississippi College Department of Art

Becky Jolly, Lesley Silver, and Randy Jolly at the Peter Anderson Festival

Lesley Silver is an artist and owns the Attic Gallery in downtown Vicksburg with her husband, Daniel Boone.  Becky Jolly works at Hinds Community College/Vicksburg Branch in the library and once did weaving. Artist Randy Jolly is the person who invited me to Mississippi Art Colony for a day in October. He directs the Gore Galleries in the Mississippi College Department of Art. I’ve interviewed Randy and will blog about him after I’ve done some transcribing.

Earnestine Williams of Ocean Springs has been sewing and making alterations for 55 years. She sold pieced blankets, quilts, and aprons, and more in her booth at the festival.

Earnestine Williams

Earnestine Williams

Earl Yandell, son of Norm Yandell who created Norm Bait Lures, talked to me about the lures he carves from wood. Their booth was full of colorful lures ready for fishing.

Fisher Willingham probably had more fun than anyone at the festival. I met him as he was skating the food area on his Ripstik board.

Fisher Willingham on his Ripstik board

All images are used with permission of the artist and subject.

37th Annual Peter Anderson Festival, Day One

Here are a few pictures from the first day of the Peter Anderson Festival in downtown Ocean Springs. Despite the rain, attendance seemed good. I’m headed back there right now and, hopefully, it will be a bit dryer.

Festival participants Bailee Nelson (left) and Kristian Rogers

Festival participants Bailee Nelson (left) and Kristian Rogers

In front of The Pink Rooster art gallery in Ocean Springs, Sherry Phillips Carlson paints a street scene during the Peter Anderson Festival.

In front of The Pink Rooster art gallery in Ocean Springs, Sherry Phillips Carlson paints a street scene during the Peter Anderson Festival.

Sherry Carlson's watercolor

Sherry Phillips Carlson’s watercolor

Festival sign on beer cart

37th Annual Peter Anderson Festival

Festival poster from Facebook

Festival poster from Facebook

Saturday, I’m off to the Peter Anderson Arts and Crafts Festival in Ocean Springs. I’m hoping to see some of the artists I met at Mississippi Art Colony back in late September and to meet even more artists. There will be “more than 400 artists, crafters and food vendors lining the downtown streets of Ocean Springs” according to the festival Facebook page.

Patt Odom paints during Mississippi Art Colony, fall 2015 at Henry S. Jacob Camp, Utica, Mississippi.

Patt Odom paints during Mississippi Art Colony, fall 2015 at Henry S. Jacob Camp, Utica, Mississippi.

Eleven of the 42 members of Mississippi Art Colony live in Ocean Springs. They are Kris Byrd, Rosemary Eagan, Monique Greathouse, Sandra Halat, Judy MacInnis, George Ann McCullough, Patt Odom, Susie Ranager, Norma Seward, Kathy Tosch, and Bryant Whelan.  Some other Mississippi Art Colony members who work on the Gulf Coast are Pat Abernathy, Lyn Brown, Sherry Phillips Carlson, Paulette Dove, Kat Fitzpatrick, Vanda McCormick, and Cissy Quinn.

Norma Seward paints at Mississippi Art Colony in September 2015.

Norma Seward paints at Mississippi Art Colony in September 2015.

¡Latinfest! 2015

Dancers at LatinFest 2015

Danza Azteca  (I’m still identifying them, but I do know the name of the dancer on the far left: Esmerelda Montragon. Let me know if you know the names of the other dancers.)

A couple of weekends ago, I went to ¡Latinfest! at the Mississippi Farmers’ Market in Jackson. After having a lunch of some delicious tacos, I watched the audience dancing the electric slide (do people still call it that?).  After some announcements, Mariachi Jalisco & Danza Azteca performed and had everyone’s attention with their music and dancing.

For more photographs of the festival, check out Rick Guy’s photographs in The Clarion-Ledger (“Latin Fest brightens up day“, October 25, 2015). There are some videos posted on LatinFest MS’s Facebook page.

Mariachi Jalisco performs

Mariachi Jalisco

Volunteers at LatinFest 2015: (from left to right) Joycie Wilson, Addy Keith (event organizer), Diamond Williams, Jamie Lopez

Volunteers at LatinFest 2015: (from left to right) Joycie Wilson, Addy Keith (event organizer), Diamond Williams, Jamie Lopez

I did not meet any visual artists, but Ms. Addy Keith, one of the event organizers, invited me to contact her about MS Byways. If you know of any visual artists, especially those of Latino heritage, in Mississippi, please email me at bbatton@msmuseumart.org.  By visual artists, I don’t mean only painters, sculptors, photographers, and draftsmen. It also means clothing designers, tattoo artists, mural and sign painters, filmmakers… I’m sure I could go on.