The concrete, steel and glass building seems unfinished, with the rawness of unformed clay. The gravel drive and rust-colored patina on the sign lettering adds to the feeling that this is a work in progress, left to weather naturally in the elements. Tucked into an oddly shaped lot between the reservoir and the woods surrounding the Natchez Trace in Ridgeland, the Mississippi Craft Center is a monument to the architect's vision and that of the Craftsmen's Guild of Mississippi.
Inside, soaring windows shed natural light on concrete floors, warm maple, cherry and cypress woods, and cool glass and metal fixtures. Purposely left open, the high ceilings expose iron beams and silvery ductwork. The open, inviting space stands in stark contrast to the tiny log cabin where the center was once located. Retail space alone tripled in June when the center opened, and the building provides numerous wide-open spaces for classes, exhibitions and events. Sales are brisk, already double those of last year; the additional space means more crafters can sell their wares amidst a greater diversity of items.
"We don't like the term 'starving artist,'" said Executive Director Julia Daily, with a smile. "We prefer to keep them fed."
Guild members include more than 400 artisans, 85 percent from Mississippi, and the rest representing 18 other states across the U.S. Intricate basketry and carvings from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians are part of the Center's permanent exhibit.
Beyond preserving and promoting crafters, teaching is an important aspect of the Guild's mission, and the Center frequently hosts field trips from local schools. Children get a hands-on experience of a variety of crafts when they visit, in addition to seeing crafters at work and the unique objects they create. The space also hosts a variety of adult and children's classes, from textile looming to blacksmithing, and from clay and wood to glass.
The Mississippi Craft Center is located at 950 Rice Road in Ridgeland. Call 601-856-7546 or visit their website for additional information.
by Roy Adkins
Photo by Felandus Thames
Native Jacksonian and local painter Felandus Thames has been honing his artistic craft since he was a student at Murrah High School. Thames received his bachelor's in painting and graphic design from Jackson State in 2007, and is currently shopping around for a graduate school to pursue a master's in painting and printmaking. He considers serigraphy (a printmaking technique that uses silk screening) the "core" of his work. He started off using photo transfers as an element of his paintings, but decided serigraphy would tie his fine arts to his graphic design better, providing a crisper image.
Thames lists Betye Saar, Robert Rauschenberg, Joseph Cornell and Thrush Holmes as influences. However, the one influence that surprises is 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer; Thames does a lot of glazing in the style of Vermeer, with vastly different end results.
Understanding that each piece of art he creates is different, I asked Thames to describe the hypothetical process he goes through creating a piece. He starts with a blank canvas and adds layers of paint that he feels work with the "narrative" of the piece, and then he adds a layer of serigraphy. He glazes into that to "tone down the serigraphy," then he "juxtaposes images on top of a layer." Then he adds another layer of serigraphy, and finally, he works on his tonal values and colors.
Despite Thames' willingness to break down his process into steps, he approaches painting in a "purely inspirational" way. He describes the bulk of his work in the last five years as being based on "race, class, gender and social construct as it pertains to Mississippi." Lately Thames has been exploring ideas related to the "dichotomy of the blues:" how beautiful things can come out of horrible circumstances, and the relationships between the oppressor and the oppressed.
See Felandus Thames' work at the Joysmith Gallery in Memphis through December, or at Southside Gallery in Oxford. Thames also has an upcoming show beginning Jan. 14, 2008, at Walkers Point Center for the Visual Arts in Milwaukee, Wis.
Stage & Screen
by Shaketta Toins
Photo by Maggie Burks
The director of Jackson State University's theater program and five students created MADDRAMA Acting Troupe in 1998 as an outlet to express themselves. At the time, founder Mark Henderson says, JSU students had few opportunities to get involved with theater. The troupe was also a way for the students to travel the country doing theater that is relevant to the lives of people of color.
In 2003, MADDRAMA—which stands for Making a Difference Doing Respectful and Meaningful Art—became an official campus organization, and is now comprised of about 100 students and community members. Henderson says the group aims not only to entertain, but also to educate young people about their history and allow them to communicate their issues, such as self-esteem, family problems, or teen pregnancy.
In conjunction with the Margaret Walker Alexander Research Center, MADDRAMA will present "The Soul of Black Folk," at the research center's 15th annual fund raiser on Thursday, Dec. 6, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35. The production will take place in the Reddix Student Union on JSU's campus. The musical production takes the audience on a journey from Africa to America, highlighting issues that African Americans often deal with such as child abuse, relationship problems, cancer and AIDS. "The goal is to show how we survive as black folk because we have an unconquerable soul," Henderson says.
In January, MADDRAMA travels to Mississippi Valley State University to perform Henderson's "An African American Salute to Broadway." In Jackson on Feb. 19, they will present "Take Me Back," a musical Henderson wrote in 2004 to celebrate the sacrifices of the Civil Rights Movement. "It does not degrade any race, it just shows how we should work for the good of humanity," Henderson says. They perform soon in Houston, Alabama and Texas.
Contact Mark Henderson at 601-454-1183, or visit MADDRAMA's website.
by Darren Schwindaman
Photo by Marianne Machost
Assembling a quilting community in the Jackson area is as artistically challenging as creating an actual quilt. Marianne Machost and Anne Robertson use an extensive collection of fabrics, cutting-edge technology, an art gallery and interactive classes to build their quilt of a community. It's taken the shape of QuiltArts, which opened Nov. 16 on Lakeland Drive. QuiltArts fills a need for a resource for quilters of all skill and interest levels.
The shop features fabric collections from popular modern quilters, such as Kaffe Fassett and Amy Butler. It also houses a machine that will help stitch and finish your own quilt. In addition, a gallery space showcases the work of local quilt artists. The owners will invite famous quilters to give instruction about technique.
"All you need is an interest and appreciation of the art form to get started," Robertson says.
The diverse selection of colors and prints calls to mind everything from bright geometric patterns to bohemian earth-toned designs. One large wall of the shop contains solid colors arranged in a rainbow palette. Entire lines of designer fabrics are featured so that it is easy for each quilter to consistently realize his or her unique vision.
You'll also find an international selection of fabrics, including gold-stamped fabric from South Africa, authentic Aboriginal designs from Australia and original work from Japan.
Quilting classes start January 2008. Call 601-579-4915 for more information, and look for quiltartsonline.com, coming soon. Ask about free classes for beginners.
Holiday & Community
One Two One Studio
by Roy Adkins
Photo by Roy Adkins
Austin Richardson is a Jackson native with a new business venture in the Millsaps Arts District: One Two One Studio at 121 Millsaps Ave. He met neighborhood residents Gretchen Haien, Ezra Brown and Andy Young while mowing grass in the area, and their energy and the creative endeavors motivated him. Richardson studied theater arts in the Jackson Public School's APAC program, but recently focused his creative energies on furniture making.
He decided to move to the area in 2007, renting an apartment inside the building that now houses One Two One Studio. After living there for a few months, the potential of the building's empty space inspired Richardson to form his business. Although Richardson says that he doesn't consider himself an artist, he does talk about the importance of the process of creating and manufacturing objects. Richardson credits his mentor Richard Craft at Craft Products for his manufacturing ideas. Three years ago Richardson had a job salvaging wood, and through that job he was given the opportunity to use some of the tools at Craft Products. Earlier this year he was offered a job building furniture.
Richardson's immediate creative plans include manufacturing skateboards, getting a letter press up and running, setting up a screen-printing workshop, establishing a computer lab and turning the front of the space into a gallery. This all sounds like a huge undertaking for one individual, but luckily, Richardson is approaching this as a community endeavor; he already has several other creatives sharing the studio space and is looking for more. Richardson estimates that he could potentially provide comfortable, shared mixed-media studio space for 10 artists in the studio's 9,000 square feet.
For information about One Two One Studio, contact Austin Richardson at 601-540-5991 or e-mail [e-mail unavailable]
A New Dialogue
To view Winter Arts Preview listings, please visit the new JFP events calendar.