Hanging with Artists

"How did you spend your Spring Break?" "I don't know, I slept late, went to the mall, watched TV. How 'bout you?" "In a room with 11 other artists creating artwork all week that will hang at different venues all year. I discovered I really like print-making, and I have some contacts to help me build a portfolio of my graphic art so I can illustrate my own cartoons one day."

Spring Art Camp at the Mississippi Museum of Art, sponsored and conceived by David Fowler at Parkway Properties, Inc., provided a unique opportunity usually afforded only to MFA candidates: to "hang out with" professional artist Lea Barton and artist/teacher John McLeod all week. Barton's inspiration to create "a room of one's own" transformed a space at the museum used for after-school and summer art classes into individual studios for the 10 participants. With brown butcher paper on the walls, each student chose an area as his or her own, then used a signature color to begin to define the space. After five minutes, they shifted to the next station to add to its decor in their own color and form to create a "dialogue" between the works and the artists.

Antonio Blackmon, a Jim Hill High School senior, said he loved having "a lot of freedom to do what we wanted to do" as he worked on his daVinci-inspired piece. Much of his work from the week evoked the High Renaissance in Italy with mirror writing and classical forms, yet with Antonio's own spin. In the next space, Alphonso Burks' original pencil-drawn comic-strip heroes and villains hovered over the young artist's right shoulder; his first painting, a sunset pink and red seascape with a large crab scuttling over a Martian rock, flanked his left. Barton encouraged Burk, a senior at Callaway High School, to create a portfolio of his work to show local newspapers, transforming his tremendous leaps of imagination into a concrete plan of action to fulfill another dream: admission to Savannah School of Design.

Nestled amid the students, both Barton and McLeod enjoyed a productive week in their individual studio spaces. McLeod, a sculptor and teacher at the Jackson Public Schools-sponsored after-school program at the museum, chipped away at a large piece of wood, creating an unintended bark carpet in his space. He is currently inspired by mythology and the way it provides a "cultural overview," he says. Barton's space signaled the final phase of a series of 12 paintings based on Sunday mornings—pearls, white gloves, hunting rifle (!). Two new panels anticipate the start of her next woman-centered series.

"Hanging" with artists as they work creates an environment where experience can be absorbed through osmosis and students can be a part of the process that is art. Flow can be difficult to establish in the short increments of divided high school schedules.

Through their sponsorship, Parkway Properties has created a true greenhouse this spring, planted with seeds full of ripe possibility. Given the success of the program, hopefully other enlightened businesses will help make this an annual event. As Voltaire's cautionary statement reminds us: " We must cultivate our garden." Investment at this level in Jackson will truly ensure a rich future for our community.


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