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.

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.

Kudzu Crossing by William Warren

William Warren’s paintings of kudzu depict roadside sculpture gardens of fantastic, sometimes alien-looking forms. He told me there was good kudzu between Water Valley and Taylor.

“Kudzu Crossing” by William Warren is on view at Bozarts Gallery, Water Valley. Acrylic on canvas. Copyright (c) the artist.

“Mound Moguls” by William Warren. acrylic on canvas. Copyright (c) the artist.

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I wanted a photo of the kudzu near Water Valley and Taylor, but was in a hurry and took this photo from a moving car, so it doesn’t do it justice.

Born in Princeton, New Jersey, by the time William Warren was in third grade, the other children in his class were impressed by his drawing abilities and asked him to draw dinosaurs and other things. By eighth grade, the political cartoons by David Levine that appeared in New York magazine inspired him to make his own pen and ink drawings of political satire. A versatile artist, he has been sculpting since high school. At Rhode Island School of Design is where he says, “I really started to paint. And that’s become, you know, sort of a lifelong pursuit. It’s really my primary passion.”

“Journey of the One Eyed Egg” by William Warren. acrylic on canvas. Copyright (c) the artist.

Warren and his wife, Pati D’Amico, started the Waiting Room Gallery in Providence, Rhode Island, as they were waiting for their house to sell so that they could move to the bohemian Bywater area of New Orleans. This was 1996. Warren recalls an accomplishment of his and D’Amico’s that happened in Providence that year before they moved to New Orleans:

We started Gallery Night. It was kind of like another overnight success because it grew from about eight galleries in the beginning to sixteen the second time and then we had a Charlie bus that took everybody around. So it was a great rejuvenator for the city arts scene. People had thought about it for years but it was that catalyst of a couple people getting together and saying ‘Let’s do it.’

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William Warren, who goes by Bill among friends and clients of his sign-painting business, sits in front of one of his sculptures on his porch in Water Valley.

They arrived in New Orleans on April Fools’ Day, 1997. In a big, double shotgun house in Bywater, Warren and D’Amico lived on one side and eventually opened the Waiting Room Gallery on the other side. He reflects upon the positive effect that affordable housing and real estate can have on an arts scene:

Bywater was very affordable at that time. It was really a bohemian art scene. Quintessential. And that really suited me. I always thought that sort of inexpensive, funky area really suited me. There were many painters, many writers, musicians galore. So it was a place that people could afford, and that’s a main ingredient in any art scene I think is affordability. Hopefully, affordable so that artists can buy their own spaces because I think we have a lot more control over the situation. Now, after the storm, that all changed. Everything got very expensive, very quickly actually. [. . .] Our gallery was kind of a pioneer of the area. We, another gallery around the corner from us, and then one on St. Claude. [. . .] in that area, there were only about three or four galleries and now there are about ten to thirteen galleries in the area.”

Warren and D’Amico moved to Water Valley in 2008. Warren’s hand-painted signs are found on storefronts along Main Street. In fact, last year, The Huffington Post published an article about him that was written by Lauren Walser for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

A hand-painted sign by William Warren in Water Valley.

William Warren painted this mural in 2013 in Water Valley. The design is from a 1907 illustration by J. G. Boyd.

Warren and D’Amico have been instrumental in the growth of the artistic community there. (Read more about their involvement with Bozarts Gallery in my previous post.) Their studios will be on the Art Crawl tour on September 19, 2015.  For more information about the Art Crawl, go to the Water Valley Arts Council’s Facebook page.

Thanks to William Warren for allowing me to interview him and to share the images of his artworks. To see more artworks by William Warren, contact Bozarts Gallery at (662) 473-2484 or visit http://bozartsgallery.com/.

Follow me through the kudzu and byways of Mississippi and learn about the art I see and the artists I meet along the way.

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Michael Ashley

As I mentioned in previous posts, I interviewed Michael and Laura Ashley of Ashley Studio Pottery in Tupelo in early March, 2015.

Michael Ashley of Ashley Studio Pottery

Michael Ashley of Ashley Studio Pottery

Michael Ashley makes pots to be used and to be experienced, not in an abstract way, but in a daily-life way that brings us to notice the food that we’re about to enjoy or to feel the warmth of the hot tea on a chilly evening. In 2005, he went to Taiwan as Artist in Residence in the Masters Ceramics Program at Tainan National University of the Arts. He took few belongings with him and lived in a small room with basically one suitcase and a tatami mat. He recalls making some pots when he arrived, to add to his small collection of pots from his friends and purchases in Tainan.

I sort of lived with them everyday, and they became my friends and I understood them in a different way because I was actually using them and I hadn’t really used pots before. [. . .] I think that’s one of the biggest things I learned in Taiwan was making and using handmade objects sort of everyday and I realized that it was something I wanted to do no matter where I was.

Prior to moving to Tupelo, Michael and Laura traveled together for school, to attend workshops, to teach, or for other work. Michael, who is passionate about cooking, said he paid attention to the cultural differences among regional foods, music, and climates, as all of it affects what he does. For example, he talked about a recent gathering they hosted in Tupelo:

We had a crawfish boil this weekend, and I want to make some big pots with the right kind of foot and just fill it with crawfish and have the corn on the top of it. You know, you don’t have crawfish whenever you’re in New England. You have clams and shrimp, so you have other things, but there might be a different idea associated with it.

A footed pot by Michael Ashley

A footed pot by Michael Ashley

Michael sums up his artist statement with one sentence: “Make something, use it, and then make more.” He explains:

That’s really kind of a credo that I’ve adopted, that I make something, and then I go cook, and I use it, and I put something in it, and I see what that does. Not necessarily just from the standpoint of, well, it’s too heavy or it’s too light or gravy looks good in this or potatoes look good, but more about just taking the pot and putting something in it and then making another pot. That’s pretty important to me, actually. I think not just because I get information from it, but [. . .] you know, I think it does something to me inside. Like if you’re a musician. [. . .] I just get fuel for the next thing by using pots.

 

Laura Ashley

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Laura Ashley (left) being interviewed by Beth Batton on March 3, 2015. Photograph by Michael Ashley.

Most of this post is excerpted from my interview with Laura Ashley at Ashley Studio Pottery in Tupelo in early March, 2015.  At the studio, Laura and Michael Ashley design, create, and sell ceramic wares for the house and table.  They also teach classes there.

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A vase by Laura Ashley

Laura also is executive director of Gumtree Museum of Art. After having grown up in Tupelo, Laura earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramics at the University of Mississippi in 2010. She talks about leaving Mississippi for graduate school:

Whenever I decided that I was going to be an artist, I sort of resigned myself to following the wind, I guess, or, following the jobs is more like it, because I knew that it was going to take leaving a place to learn from other people, especially the teachers that I wanted to learn from. They were not here.

I went to New York State College of Ceramics in Alfred University. It is a graduate program very, very specific to ceramics and also glass. [. . .] There’s a lot of material knowledge there that’s available to artists, which is really great. [. . .] It’s a very big program. There’s six faculty [members] as opposed to maybe two or three in the typical sort of art program. And so I got a huge range of opinions and thoughts from. . . and also technical knowledge from these sort of giants of the ceramic art world.

After graduate school, Laura spent a year at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia as Artist in Residence. Working in an urban experience taught her a lot and was enjoyable, but required working in a tight space with others and being as efficient as possible. “You know, again, there’s the whole issue of kiln firing and we were working in old city Philadelphia.”

She describes the transition in her work after graduate school from conceptual based tableware to focusing more on “functional, archetypal vessels that people can use in their homes and want to use”:

My work changed whenever I left graduate school to go to Philadelphia because all of a sudden, I wasn’t making work for the gallery per se anymore. [. . .] I wanted to sell to a specific person who would then take it and assimilate it into their domestic space. My pots at that time had a lot of ego attached to them: they had their own personalities, and it was almost as if they didn’t need you. You know, they had a very specific aesthetic. They were sort of a finished thought, and they didn’t need to travel to a domestic space to complete the concept. They were done. [. . .] I think I changed toward making more functional, traditional shapes and work when I went to Philadelphia and even more so when I came to Mississippi.

Glazed stoneware canisters by Laura Ashley

Glazed stoneware canisters by Laura Ashley

Being back in Tupelo, she says,

It’s really interesting, especially, you know, you leave maybe a place not knowing exactly who you are and what you’re going to become and then you come back and that’s completely changed and you have a path and sort of a purpose. I felt like it was time to come back. I think Mississippi is a really great place to be, especially to be an artist. I’m finding that I’m drawing a lot of inspiration just from being back home and feeding off that.

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Michael & Laura Ashley

Ashley Studio Pottery

Michael and Laura Ashley in the showrom of Ashley Studio Pottery, Tupelo

Michael and Laura Ashley in the showroom of Ashley Studio Pottery, Tupelo

The visual arts in Tupelo got a boost with new residents Laura and Michael Ashley.  Tupelo is Laura’s hometown, and she grew up learning art at the Gumtree Museum of Art, where she is now executive director. She and her husband, Michael Ashley, established Ashley Studio Pottery in the Renasant Center for IDEAs in downtown Tupelo in 2014.

Before returning to Tupelo, Laura was Resident Artist at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Michael was Visiting Artist and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia.

I interviewed Laura and Michael Ashley in their studio in early March, 2015. They were moving that week, it was rainy and quite cold in north Mississippi, and they were dealing with getting the heat on in their new place.

So, it was a cold, dark night when I got to their studio. They fixed green tea, which I drank from a cup they had made. It was the perfect size, weight, and thickness when I held it.  It was the kind of cup I would imagine drinking tea from if I were ever to go to the countryside in Japan.

In a later post, I’ll write about them and their work.

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Pots by Ashley Studio Pottery on display

Attractions at The Frog Farm

Describing what a visitor would encounter at The Frog Farm, Louise Cadney Coleman says about her creation, “When you first walk back into the garden, you would see some frog Beefeaters. They’re the guards. And they’re dressed in the costume, like the . . . British Beefeaters. But they’re frog Beefeaters and they guard The Frog Farm. And that’s the castle of The Frog Farm. It’s a garden, and, in that garden, [are] different attractions.”

A frog sculpture outfitted as a British Beefeater guards the entrance to The Frog Farm.

A frog sculpture outfitted as a British Beefeater guards the entrance to The Frog Farm.

Ms. Coleman’s imagination and wit drive the stories, environments, and activities that she invents for her sculptures. The installations also attract visitors, which is why she refers to them as attractions.

Past the Beefeater in the sculpture garden, a raised, wooden, plank walkway keeps visitors’ feet out of the mud and leads to the center of a clearing. Along the perimeter, under a grove of mulberry trees, four-feet-tall frogs appear on various structures and are painted sky blue, lime green, lemon yellow, and fire-engine red. Live frogs make themselves heard but not seen.

LCC on platform in garden_cropped, even smaller

Ms. Coleman lists the attractions at The Frog Farm:

One of them is the Mud Rockers, which is a frog band. And then we have a bird arbor back there, and there’s a Penguin Hill. There’s an alligator hill. We call it the Gator Hill. And you’ll see frog houses . . . You’ll see the . . . G & P boathouse. That’s for George and Peewee because the frogs in that boathouse are called Peewee and George.”

Louise Cadney Coleman, Mud Rockers

Louise Cadney Coleman, P & G Boathouse

Some of the outdoor attractions have been damaged by spring storms, fluctuations of the weather, insects, creeping vines, and time. The sculptures that cannot be spruced up with a fresh coat of paint are replaced. Ms. Coleman found that alligators made from logs or limbs were especially prone to decay, so she now uses treated wood for their bodies.

There are also attractions inside her showroom, the Frog Nest.  She describes one of them:

When you walk into my atrium, the first thing you see is my aquarium. And that’s one of my favorite things because you don’t have to change the water. You don’t have to feed the fish. And it’s a stunning thing, I think, when you walk in there. It really shows my imagination in full.

Tropical Fins, ca. 2010, is an indoor attraction by Louise Cadney Coleman at The Frog Farm.

Louise Cadney Coleman, Tropical Fins, ca. 2010

She continues:

The background is made from old tin and the fish are placed just along there. It’s about eight feet by eight feet. [. . .] It’s filled with tropical fish and some catfish. And there’s a couple of turtles in there, too. It’s called Tropical Fins.

Tropical Fins (detail), ca. 2010, by Louise Cadney Coleman

Tropical Fins (detail)

She shapes her critters from sticks or limbs that she finds, “Wherever I am and I’m looking around.” The natural shape and curve of the stick suggests the bird or fish it will become. Sometimes, Ms. Coleman uses a pocketknife and a wood file to shape it. She likes colors, so she coats each creature with acrylic paint. “I try to be true to nature or what people would like,” she says about her color palette.

She hopes that visitors to The Frog Farm will leave with “Joy and an appreciation for the art world and for art, especially folk art . . . This is another form of art that I want people to appreciate and to understand . . . For most folk artists, it’s a natural thing.”

Louise C Coleman portrait copy

Louise Cadney Coleman works in her studio at The Frog Farm every day that she’s not at her cytology job, which she does on Mondays and Wednesdays. The regular admission fee is $10.00, the discounted fee for seniors is $3.00, and coupons are available at the Mississippi Museum of Art. The Frog Farm is located at 186 Old Highway 61 Road, which is south of Lorman as you travel on Highway 61 South. The Frog Farm is on Facebook and can be reached by phone at 601-493-3420.

Read the other MS Byways blog posts about this artist at Introducing The Frog Farm, Natural Creativity at The Frog Farm, and How Frog Farm Got Its Name.

All artwork is copyright (c) Louise Cadney Coleman. All photographs are copyright (c) Beth Batton and the Mississippi Museum of Art.


Articles and other blogs about The Frog Farm:

Natural Creativity at The Frog Farm

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The guitarist of the Mud Rockers is constantly on stage at The Frog Farm.

Louise Cadney Coleman sculpts whimsical creatures from sticks and tree limbs. Her Frog Farm is a garden of folk art sculptures, mostly of anthropomorphic frogs doing un-amphibian-like things such as playing in a rock band or visiting a tiki bar.

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A frog bartender awaits visitors at the Tiki Bar inside The Frog Farm’s Sunbreeze Café.

Ms. Coleman was born in the small, rural community of Harriston, Mississippi, in the mid-twentieth century, and she grew up there on a hill with her 10 siblings. “We were true country children,” she said.

Scientist and Folk Artist
“I got started as a child making stick dolls,” she explains, “. . . Because there were a lot of us and they were not able to afford all the dolls I wanted, and I was a doll person. So I started making the dolls myself out of sticks, and I made clothes for them, and I gave them names.”

After graduating from high school in Fayette and earning a Bachelor of Science degree from Southern University in Baton Rouge, she was trained as a cytotechnologist (one who studies cells) at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Chicago. She never took any art classes.

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Louise Cadney Coleman

“Art is natural,” she says. “Science is a learned thing for me . . . If I had known at the time that I could have probably made a living as an artist, I probably would have been an artist all the way. But science is something that I knew I could make a living doing. And that’s the way I went. But then . . . art is my first love.”

After having established her career as a cytotechnologist, she returned to art and began selling her work at art shows and community heritage festivals. One customer in particular, a well travelled man from the Caribbean, saw tremendous creativity and promise in her work and urged her to have a showroom and museum representation. That was the encouragement she needed to indulge her sculpted frogs with an indoor and outdoor space of their own.

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Small beefeater sculptures are for sale inside the “Frog Nest,” which is the showroom and studio of The Frog Farm.

Next time, read about how The Frog Farm got its name and the attractions there. The Frog Farm is located at 186 Old Highway 61 Road, which is south of Lorman as you travel on Highway 61 South. The Frog Farm is on Facebook and can be reached by phone at 601-493-3420.

All artwork is copyright (c) Louise Cadney Coleman. All photographs are copyright (c) Beth Batton and the Mississippi Museum of Art.

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