Thursday, April 28, 2011

Farewell Gwen Magee

(photo courtesy Roy A. Adkins,

We got word at the MAC offices this morning that textile artist Gwen Magee has died. Gwen, known for her strong spirit and her powerful narrative quilts, was honored with the Artistic Excellence award at the 2011 Governor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts. Gwen's work often depicts the harsh realities of African-American life in the American South. Her work can be found in the Smithsonian, the Missississippi Arts Center and the Mississippi Museum of Art's "Mississippi Story" exhibition. She was recently interviewed by GĂ©raldine Chouard and Anne Cremieux, two French documentary filmmakers, who are working on a feature about Gwen and her work. (See their short film on quilter Riche Richardson here.) She was 67.

Read today's Clarion-Ledger story on Gwen's legacy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring Scenes

A tiny water lily bloom in my parent's pond. Decor for the frogs.

Honeysuckle vine growing near my parking space at work. Smells so sweet.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Attala County Naturalist

I spent the afternoon with self-taught painter and naturalist James Sanders last fall. James started out paining landscapes on canavas. He now uses craft paint to intricately decorate ceramics and pottery he finds at second-hand stores. James is inspired by ancient Chinese painting and the natural wonders of his surroundings outside of Kosciusko in Attala County.

James inspects one of the many of the tumbled stones that he has painted and made part of his home collection.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why I Love Martha Foose

There are many reasons I love Martha Foose. First off, one of my early feature stories for Delta Magazine was a profile on Martha and her then restaurant and bakery, Mockingbird, in Greenwood. At the time she had a baby boy named Joe (who's now grown into a young man of 8 years) and was getting her initial taste for managing professional life with motherhood. She served me a pimento cheese with unsweet tea on Donald's (her husband) perfected sourdough bread and shared with me that it was his bread, not his charm, that first won her heart during their courtship in Oxford, Mississippi.

Donald would soon become a dear friend of my father (who is well 30 years Donald's senior) and the two became somewhat staple figures of the local farmer's market. I'd call home from Nashville and find that Daddy and Donald had been drinking Scotch on the patio at the Alluvian, or that he and my brother Preston had killed a hog the weekend before. After my parents moved to Jackson, I think they missed the Foose/Bender family more than neighbors they'd known for years.

Martha is a character. She can tell you a backroad dirty joke with one hand and feed you French cuisine from fine china with the other. She loves a good band and a good party. She could choose to live in NYC or LA and be the toast of the town, but she cherishes her Mississippi roots and elects to stay here in her native land. These are reasons why I love Martha Foose. These are reasons based on a short friendship I had with her in the Delta, and one that has continued to grow through our interviews for the Arts Hour radio show.

But there are other reasons I love Martha Foose. Reasons that I most likely share with anyone who ever thumbed through, or cooked from, her first cookbook, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. She is a storyteller. She captures the places, personalities and peculiar ways of the Delta in a conversational style that makes you feel like you are listening to an old friend. But then, man oh man, she pairs those stories with recipes and ingredients that get even the most seasoned cook excited to bring down the cast-iron skillet or light the grill. (I am no baker, but I can only imagine what her desserts do for the sweets and treats type.)

Martha is running the road ragged touring her new book, A Southerly Course: Recipes and Stories from Close to Home, and the party is following close behind. And I don't mean to say that Martha has an entourage of rockers sipping Budweiser at the back of the bookstore (or does she?). What I mean to say is that as soon as you pick up A Southerly Course there is going to be a party quickly to follow: at your house, in your backyard, with family, with friends, with neighbors and strangers who follow their noses into your kitchen and into your life.

So thank you, Martha. I'm your biggest fan in Fondren. Maybe in all of Jackson.

And your Peanut Chicken recipe won me some strong praise at my deck party last night. Just another reason I love Martha Foose.

Tune to MPB Radio Sunday, May 8 at 3 p.m. to hear Martha and I jive about food, music, family and all things Mississippi.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rev. Dennis' Day at the Capitol

Y'all have heard me talk about Margaret's Grocery more than once by now. While my first visit to this techni-color folk architectural dreamspace was only a little over two years ago, I've been passionate about seeing it saved from the elements of time and decay ever since.

Historic preservation is uncharted territory for the Mississippi Arts Commission. We once had a line item from the state legislature to offer a grant called the "Building Fund for the Arts." This grant helped arts organizations revitalize historic spaces for use as auditoriums, arts co-ops, theatres, etc. My cousin Zeb and his wife Haley had one hell of a wedding shin-dig at the E.E. Bass School Auditorium in Greenville, Miss., one of the many brick and mortar projects the Building Fund for the Arts helped fund. But, alas, the days of government subsidizing the preservation of historic spaces is long gone, and my efforts to help save Margaret's Grocery have been slow and relatively unfunded.

And, yes, although Miss Margaret is gone now and Rev. Dennis spends his days preaching the gospel to his colleagues at the convalescent home in Vicksburg, I'd be remiss to say that there isn't any energy swelling around the movement to save Margaret's Grocery. Two individuals in particular have worked hard to start a 501c3 non-profit and to see that Preacher is in good hands. My hat goes off to photographer Suzi Altman and attorney/filmmaker Robbie Fisher for their help in keeping the momentum high. If it wasn't for Suzi and Robbie, and some good governmental karma, we would have never gotten the recognition we did on March 22 from Gov. Haley Barbour and the Mississippi House of Representatives and State Senate.

As part of the MAC's annual advocacy initiative, Day at the Capitol, Rev. Dennis and Margaret's Grocery was recognized by Gov. Barbour with a proclamation naming March 20-26 "Rev. Herman D. Dennis and Margaret's Grocery Appreciation and Awareness Week." (See this story on the blog Deep Fried Kudzu.) A joint Senate-House resolution was also put in place, and Senator Briggs Hopson and Representative George Flaggs made speeches, kind remarks, and promises to help save Margaret's Grocery.

It was a great day for folk arts in Mississippi. I think Rev. Dennis was pretty pleased as well.

(All photos by James Patterson)