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

Howell-0712

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.

Howell-0719

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.

Mrs_Millicent_Howell_and_Mrs_Harriet_DeWeese

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.

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

Beth interviewing Laura Ashley 3-3-15_photo by M Ashley

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.

Laura's vase_750

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.

Michael & Laura Ashley 2_750

Michael & Laura Ashley

How The Frog Farm Got Its Name

outdoor Frog Farm copy

The Frog Farm as seen from the road in early March, 2015. The brown building on the left was Louise Cadney Coleman’s first studio, which she eventually outgrew. On the far right is the entrance to the sculpture garden. It is guarded by a frog Beefeater.

On the edge of the woods in Harriston, artist Louise Cadney Coleman and her husband own a piece of land, which became home to The Frog Farm, a folk art sculpture garden.  Before it became The Frog Farm, it was called Woodland Court. In addition to her husband’s hunting cabin, on the property was

. . . a low area and frogs do jump around and kids from the community like to come because they like frogs. And they came to me one day and they said to me, ‘Miss Louise, this is not Woodland Court. This is a frog farm. And I said, ‘Oh, okay.’ So I started making frogs, birds, alligators, turtles, and other things to go with that theme. And it’s grown from there.”

That was about 1999. She hopes to expand The Frog Farm one day, possibly to St. Francisville, Louisiana.

Sunbreeze Cafe, inside_even smaller

Two frogs servers prepare the day’s special, fried crickets, at the Sunbreeze Café at The Frog Farm.

Artist Louise Cadney Coleman stands on the walkway in a low area of her Harriston, Mississippi, property.  A natural frog habitat, this area also is a folk art sculpture garden that local children named The Frog Farm.

Artist Louise Cadney Coleman removes a fallen branch from the walkway in a low area of her Harriston, Mississippi, property. A natural frog habitat, this area became the folk art sculpture garden that local children named The Frog Farm.

Penguin Hill_small

“Penguin Hill” is one of The Frog Farm’s attractions. Read more about the attractions in a future post.

turtles on a log outside_small

Turtles shaped from found wood are camouflaged on a log.

Woodland Shops_even smaller

In this sculpture, “Woodland Shops,” miniature frog figures pose in front of store fronts that advertise fresh crickets and cool mud for sale.

The Snack Shack and The Frog Nest are two of the structures that Louise Cadney Coleman and her husband have built at The Frog Farm. The Frog Nest houses her studio and showroom.

The Snack Shack and The Frog Nest are two of the structures that Louise Cadney Coleman and her husband have built at The Frog Farm. The Frog Nest houses her studio and showroom.

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.

Click on the following links to read other posts on The Frog Farm: “Introducing The Frog Farm,” and “Natural Creativity at The Frog Farm.”

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

Use the form below or email bbatton@msmuseumart.org to comment on this post or to suggest other Mississippi artists for this blog.

Tupelo Hardware Company’s Arts Connection

Weather vanes on display in the front window at Tupelo Hardware Company

Weather vanes are displayed in the front window at Tupelo Hardware Company.

Household supplies, tools, and everything else from those annoying flying-monkey toys to iron cookware fill the shelves of the Tupelo Hardware Company, a three-story, brick store located on the corner of West Main Street and South Front Street in downtown Tupelo. A worn piece of masking tape marks the spot on the wooden floor where Elvis Presley is said to have bought his first guitar, and a stand up of Elvis with his guitar is in the window.

An Elvis Presley cutout, a guitar, and surveying supplies stock another display window at the store.

An Elvis Presley cutout, a guitar, and surveying supplies stock another display window at the store.

The store’s president and owner, George H. Booth II, is an arts supporter who serves on the board of the Gumtree Museum of Art. Having grown up in Tupelo, he knows more than one artist and collector in the area. Judging from his children’s creative endeavors, his love for the arts is shared by his family. His son, George H. Booth III, enjoys playing banjo and guitar for fun. He also makes the fourth generation of the Booth family to help operate the store, which the Booths opened in 1926. Writer Catherine Lacey is George II’s daughter and lives in New York. Her first novel, Nobody Is Ever Missing, was published last year and has been reviewed in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker. In an interview with Louise Scothern for Granta, Lacey mentions that she majored in visual art and in creative writing in college.

Nobody Is Every Missing, a novel by Catherine Lacey. Book shot courtesy of FSG Originals.

Nobody Is Every Missing is a novel by Catherine Lacey. Photograph of book courtesy of and (c) copyright FSG Originals.

George Booth II and George Booth III at the store

George H. Booth II and George H. Booth III pause for a photograph at the store.

Within about 30 minutes of my meeting George II, he had phoned two artists and a collector and had jumped in the car with me to navigate me to Ashley Studio Pottery. Laura and Michael Ashley opened their studio and showroom in Tupelo in 2014. Stay tuned for future posts about them and their work.

Michael Ashley of Ashley Studio Pottery

Michael Ashley of Ashley Studio Pottery

shelves, flying monkeys_750 pixels

Shelves hold everything from linseed oil canisters to caps to a cardboard box with flying monkey toys.

Sources

Informal interview by Beth Batton with George H. Booth II, January 26, 2015.

“Welcome To Tupelo Hardward Company, Inc.,” Tupelo Hardware Company website, http://www.tupelohardware.com/aboutus.php.

Catherine Lacey, http://www.catherinelacey.com/.

Scothern, Louise, “Interview: Catherine Lacey,” Granta, 14 January 2014, http://www.granta.com/New-Writing/Interview-Catherine-Lacey.

John ________, “Tupelo Hardware & Elvis Part 3 – Johnson’s Sept 08 Trip,” YouTube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RD0sGYF_vkg.

Except where noted, all photographs are copyright (c) Beth Batton and the Mississippi Museum of Art.

Southside Gallery: Mythos

Mythos installation

Mythos installation

On view at Southside Gallery, Oxford, Mississippi, until April 10 is Mythos.  The exhibition presents three different aspects of mythology as interpreted by Hailey Hodge, Seth Thibodaux, and Whitney Turnipseed, who are visual artists in the MFA program at The University of Mississippi.  Sculptures and two-dimensional, mixed media artworks represent the story of Icarus, fairy tales, and constellations.

Title wall for the exhibition, Mythos, which features the work of three graduating MFA students of the University of Mississippi

Title wall for the exhibition, Mythos, which features the work of three graduating MFA students of The University of Mississippi.

Hailey Hodge, Cosmogony. ink on Plexiglas. Copyright (c) the artist.

“Hailey Hodge is challenging the ancient mythology on constellations as she maps out her own contemporary myths by revealing today’s gods in the stars.” -Southside Gallery. ARTWORK: Hailey Hodge, Cosmogony. ink on Plexiglas. Copyright (c) the artist.

Hailey Hodge, Abledo 100%. ink on steel. Copyright (c) the artist.

Hailey Hodge, Abledo 100%. ink on steel. Copyright (c) the artist.

Hailey Hodge, installation view of Spectroscopy, Cosmogony, and Abledo 100%. Copyright (c) the artist.

Hailey Hodge, installation view of Spectroscopy, Cosmogony, and Abledo 100%. Copyright (c) the artist.

Seth Thibodaux, Chariot of the Sky.  screenprint on Solartex, charcoal, copper, rivets. Seth Thibodaux, Wing 1. steel, aluminum, and copper. Copyright (c) the artist.

“Seth Thibodaux is representing historical myths that encapsulate flight, such as the story of Icarus, and metaphorically transposing the reality of flying with the actual mechanics of modern day aviation.” -Southside Gallery. ARTWORK on wall: Seth Thibodaux, Chariot of the Sky. screenprint on Solartex, charcoal, copper, rivets.   On pedestal: Seth Thibodaux, Wing 1. steel, aluminum, and copper. Copyright (c) the artist.

Seth Thibodaux, Don't Fly Too Close to the Sun. screenprint on Solartex, charcoal, copper, rivets. Copyright (c) the artist.

Seth Thibodaux, Don’t Fly Too Close to the Sun. screenprint on Solartex, charcoal, copper, rivets. Copyright (c) the artist.

Whitney Turnipseed, Once Upon a Time. acrylic and paper on wood. Copyright (c) the artist.

“Fairytales are a strong influence in Whitney Turnipseed’s series as she sympathizes with the classical story of ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ and associates it to her experiences with the American foster system.” -Southside Gallery. ARTWORK: Whitney Turnipseed, Once Upon a Time. acrylic and paper on wood. Copyright (c) the artist.

Whitney Turnipseed, Abandon. acrylic and paper on wood. Copyright (c) the artist.

Whitney Turnipseed, Abandon. acrylic and paper on wood. Copyright (c) the artist.

For more information about this exhibition or these artists, please contact Southside Gallery at southside@southsideartgallery.com or at 662-234-9090.

All photographs are copyright (c) Beth Batton and the Mississippi Museum of Art.

To comment on this post or to write to the Mississippi Byways project: