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.

From the Hill Country to the Gulf Coast

I’ve been traveling so much lately that I haven’t had a chance to write about where I’ve been and the art I’ve seen. Balancing traveling and blogging is still something I’m working on.

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On September 19, I was at Water Valley’s Art Crawl.

Art Crawl tailgaters Danny Rodgers, Jason Green, Sherry Green, and John Green enjoy Main Street in Water Valley.

Art Crawl tailgaters Danny Rodgers, Jason Green, Sherry Green, and John Green enjoy Main Street in Water Valley.

I stayed a couple of extra days in Water Valley to continue interviewing Katrina Geenen and Pati D’Amico and to talk with Coulter Fussell of Yalo Studio.  At Pati D’Amico and William Warren’s home on Panola Street, which was one of the stops along the Art Crawl, one room became a gallery for Jack Gurner’s photographs, which depicted Panola Street in decades past. A native of Water Valley, he was a photojournalist in Memphis and has retired with his wife to his hometown. I’ll tell you more about all of these artists in later posts.

Willie "Butch" Fox on Main Street for Art Crawl

Willie “Butch” Fox on Main Street for Art Crawl. J. R. Larson’s exhibition, HOT BLIND EARTH, at Yalo Studio and Gallery features a portrait of Butch Fox.

Also that week, I had the privilege of interviewing three creative, young men in the YOU Program for youth offenders at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. They had recently painted a mural, and I left feeling hopeful for them and grateful for their stories, which you’ll get to read after the interviews have been processed.

Yesterday, I was a guest at Mississippi Art Colony, held twice a year at Henry S. Jacobs Camp near Utica.

A mosaic on the Cultural Center at Henry S. Jacobs Camp

A mosaic on the Cultural Center at Henry S. Jacobs Camp

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Henry S. Jacobs Camp, Utica, Mississippi

The oldest, artist-run, art colony in the country, it has been meeting at Henry S. Jacobs Camp since 1973. Randy Jolly, Director of Gore Galleries and instructor in the Department of Art at Mississippi College, arranged my visit. There, I met about 40 artists, including Byron Myrick, who directs Mississippi Art Colony, and Colony president Judy Berry.

In white shirt: Elke Briuer. In pink shirt: Susan Cox Davis

In white shirt: Elke Briuer. In pink shirt: Susan Cox Davis

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Randy Jolly gave me directions to the Colony and told me he would either be painting under the pavilion or in the woods, cutting vines that he could paint and incorporate as snakes in his paintings.  The Colony artists start about 8:30 in the morning and some paint until as late as 7:00 p.m., missing Happy Hour (although it’s an hour and a half-long happy “hour” someone told me with a smile).  Each artist occupies at least one table during the entire five days of Colony, and their focus was evident when I strolled through the pavilion with my camera and hardly anyone looked up at me.

Happy Hour at Mississippi Art Colony

Happy Hour at Mississippi Art Colony

There is much to say about the Mississippi Art Colony and about the artists I met there. I’ll share images and more about them in future blogs.

View from the balcony of the board room, Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, Biloxi, Mississippi

View from the balcony of the board room, Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, Biloxi, Mississippi

Monday, September 28, I was at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi for a Mississippi Museums Association meeting.  Director Kevin O’Brian generously showed me the current exhibitions: The Mysterious Play of Water with photographs and paintings by Susan Guice; I Come From Women Who Could Fly, featuring Delita Martin‘s large-scale works that layer multiple mediums from quilts to drawings to gelatin printing; The Ooma Collection of Toshiko Takaezu’s “closed form” ceramic vessels; and two George E. Ohr installations of a total of 151 pots by the master potter. I saw 151 Ohr pots in one place in one afternoon!

The Mysterious Play of Water is an exhibition of photographs and paintings by Susan Guice. On view at the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art through Dec. 6, 2016.

The Mysterious Play of Water is an exhibition of photographs and paintings by Susan Guice. On view at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art through Dec. 6, 2016.

I Come From Women Who Could Fly is an exhibition of work by Delita Martin on view through Nov. 29, 2015 at the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art.

I Come From Women Who Could Fly is an exhibition of work by Delita Martin on view through Nov. 29, 2015 at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art.

George E. Ohr, Pitcher, c. 1895. glazed ceramic, 9 in. x 5 7/8 in. Private Collection, Biloxi, Mississippi.

George E. Ohr, Pitcher, c. 1895. glazed ceramic, 9 in. x 5 7/8 in. Private Collection, Biloxi, Mississippi.

 

One more visit that I want to mention happened last Thursday, September 17, at the Gore Galleries at Mississippi College.  I saw the alumni art show being hung and got to select the purchase prize for MC’s art collection.  Walking through the library to the coffee shop (Students don’t have to sneak coffee under their jackets when they enter the library.  They can even have pizza delivered at the library!), I passed a painting by Elizabeth Pajerski and a triptych by Kenneth Quinn. I met Dr. Quinn and will be interviewing him next week.

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A painting by Elizabeth Pajerski hangs in the library at Mississippi College.

A triptych by Kenneth Quinn in Mississippi College's library.

A triptych by Kenneth Quinn in Mississippi College’s library.

Artists Randy Jolly (left) and Kenneth Quinn at Mississippi College

Artists Randy Jolly (left) and Kenneth Quinn at Mississippi College