To Be an Artist (Field Trip, Part 2)


(Click here for Part 1)

Our first stop was the Fayette Civic Center and Art Museum. First of all, the people working in the civic center/art museum were very kind, polite, welcoming, all the things you associate with southern hospitality. Our hostess had so many stories to tell — I didn’t want to leave.

We saw the work of three Alabama artists, one of whom you may have heard. The first was Lois Wilson. No, not the co-founder of Al-Anon. I can’t find anything on the internet about Lois Wilson the Artist. What follows is my best effort at condensing the information from the museum.

Lois Wilson was born in 1905 and a graduate of Fayette schools. She studied architecture at Auburn University before enrolling in the Child’s School of Art in Boston. She moved to New York in the 30s. When WWII began, she joined the Women’s Army Corps. She was able to attend the Art Students League in New York, thanks to the GI Bill. For most of her life, she lived in the slums of Yonkers, New York, studying art and creating her own. In the 60s, she decided to fulfill her lifelong dream of founding an art museum in her hometown. She founded the museum with 110 pieces of her own art collection. Today, nearly 2700 of her pieces reside in the Fayette Art Museum.

My photos won’t do her work justice; I only have a point-and-shoot, but I hope you can get an idea of what her work is like.

You may be able to tell from this photo that Lois Wilson had a deep respect for American Indians.

She saw similarities between the hatred displayed for American Indians and African Americans. You can see this in the following painting.

Before it was hip to be so, Wilson was a devoted conservationist and environmentalist. She hated materialism and believed in recycling, so she painted on whatever she could find: abandoned shutters, glass, large and small pieces of wood, washboards. All of her work has a very organic feel to it. Sorry it’s blurry.

She also liked to contrast in her art the religions of white men and Native Americans.

Lois Wilson died in 1980.

I think Hannah was inspired by our visit to the art museum. She learned that an artist does not have to have a canvas, brushes, nor a set of expensive tubes of paint. An artist can create with anything, and no artist exemplifies that better than Jimmy Lee Suddoth.

Mr. Suddoth, also a Fayette native, was raised by a Native American medicine woman. One day, while they were walking in the woods, a 3-year-old Jimmy Lee used some mud to paint a picture on a tree stump. The next day it was still there. His mother took that as a sign that he was supposed to paint.

Over the years, Jimmy Lee learned to search for different types and colors of dirt to create his colors. He also learned to mix it with sticky substances like molasses and sugar to get it to harden and stay on his “canvas.” He called it “sweet mud.”

He learned to use flowers and plants for his color pigments. He used sticks, brushes, and his fingers.

It is very hard to tell in the photos, but there are layers of mud in each painting. One can see how Suddoth built his colors and moved his sweet mud around. I was simply fascinated by it.

We also watched a short video of Suddoth from when he was interviewed for the Today Show. Some artists are rather melancholy souls, but not Suddoth. He laughed and laughed with the reporter from NBC. He exuded a joie de vivre.

He’s quoted as saying, “I paint with my finger ’cause that’s why I got it, and that brush don’t wear out. When I die, the brush dies.” Jimmy Lee Suddoth died September 2, 2007. He was 97.

If you google, Jimmy Lee Suddoth, you’ll find lots of information about him. His work can be found all over the country, including The Smithsonian.

More to come…

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One thought on “To Be an Artist (Field Trip, Part 2)

  1. Wow, this museum looks great! I am embarrassed to say that I have never been there. Even worse, I minored in art! I will have to correct this travesty soon. Thanks for sharing!

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