Sandra Murchison, chair of the art department at Millsaps College, began a project on the Mississippi Blues Trail two and a half years ago, focusing primarily on the Delta. She makes etchings, impressions and rubbings of markers on the trail, which commemorate locations, people and moments important to blues culture and history. She then turns them into 3-D mixed-media art projects that tell some of the stories behind the historic sites.
"I'm interested in how a community portrays itself," Murchison says. "I'm researching what is written on the markers and the stories the markers tell."
One of Murchison's favorite markers is the one for Po' Monkey's, one of the last standing "authentic" juke joints in the United States, located just north of Cleveland. The owner, Willie "Po' Monkey" Seaberry, established the club in 1963, converting his home into the venue. The juke joint, which is also his home, is a self-built shack on land that sharecroppers used to farm. Seaberry still works the farm by day and opens Po' Monkey's on Thursday nights.
The Mississippi Blues Trail honors major blues musicians such as B.B. King, Bud Scott and Ike Turner. Although it is called the Mississippi Blues Trail, the trail includes markers across the United States as far as Chicago and Los Angeles, in addition to sites in Mississippi. When Murchison started her project in 2009, the trail included about 35 markers in the Delta region; now 150 markers track the blues' journey across 10 states. In addition to individual musicians and venues, the trail includes markers for street corners, cotton fields, train depots and cemeteries.
Murchison, 40, is from Wayne, N.J. She attended Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y., where she obtained a bachelor of fine arts in painting and printmaking. She then went to Louisiana State University in 1995, where she received a master's degree in the same subjects. She came to Jackson to chair the Millsaps art department, and has now lived here for 13 years.
Murchison teaches printmaking, painting, drawing and book arts at Millsaps. "Book arts stems from book making," Murchison said. "(Students) bind books with their own hands and print their own art on the books. I also keep an eye on the (art) department (at Millsaps). Also, part of my job is making art.
"However, my favorite thing is how the students keep me busy and work hard, and seeing them on the brink of starting their adult lives. They become like family."
Murchison met her husband, Julian Murchison, at Millsaps. He teaches cultural anthropology and sociology there. They have 4-month-old twin boys, Dean and Collin.