I am excited to showcase my signature piece for the 2014 Cotton District Arts Festival. This is by far the most custom piece of art that I have ever produced, and it highlights my Agri/Culture of Faith Series. This piece is entitled “Agri/Culture of Faith: Leflore County, Mississippi.”
My Agri/Culture of Faith Series documents the small, rural churches that can be seen scattered throughout the Mississippi Delta. These churches are one of my favorite features in the Delta, and they absolutely fascinate me. How long have they been there? Who worships there? What are their stories? Every one of them looks exactly the same, yet each is completely different. These are the thoughts constantly flowing through my mind as I drive throughout the vast Delta landscape. Most of these churches are slowly withering away, and who knows how much longer these iconic structures will exist.
Mississippi is a place of deep faith, deep culture, and deep family histories. Often the church is the central feature that ties all of this together. The churches that can be seen scattered throughout the fields of the Delta are more than wood, brick, and glass. They are places of worship and community with roots that reach past the soil on which they stand.
The title of this series is a play on words and phrases. People often say that the Delta has a “culture of agriculture.” As I mentioned, Mississippi has a strong culture of faith as well. Combining those phrases with the fact that these churches seem to grow right out of the fields, I felt like the “Agri/Culture of Faith” exemplified all of these concepts.
This series is an effort to document and preserve some of my favorite Delta scenes. Using some of my archive images, I started a gallery here. Over the next few years I will work to add to this collection and grow this series into a complete body of work. I am very excited about this project and hope that you enjoy it as well.
I wanted to create a custom art piece to highlight the beginning of this series and unveil it at the Cotton District Arts Festival. I feel like my photography is art, and I enjoy being included in the artist world here in Mississippi; however, over the past few months I have been inspired to create a true piece of art. Art that used more than just photography to tell a story. So I decided to design something that would stimulate my creativity and showcase this new series.
After contemplating some ideas and looking to other area artists for inspiration, I had an idea one night. I was sitting in my living room with my family, and an idea popped into my head that I had to sketch out immediately. So I sketched the idea onto this piece of scrap paper and began planning.
Over the past few weeks and months I have been working and researching techniques to make my vision a reality. Below is the final piece. I can honestly say that I have never created a custom piece like this, and I have never been more excited about something that I have created.
The image is a wooden print mounted inside a handmade wooden frame. The print is actually printed onto the wood, not mounted onto a piece of wood. It is a very unique method, and it turned out absolutely beautiful.
The church that was chosen as the subject of the photograph is a church that I have been photographing for the past 6 years. I have seen this building throughout the different seasons. I have seen it in a bare field. I have seen it surrounded by soy beans. And I have seen it enveloped by corn stalks. This church was one of the first places that I photographed when I began working in the Delta. So this church has a very special place in my heart.
It is also a perfect example of the iconic churches that I see all across the region. The church is painted perfectly white but showing definite signs of age. The steeple is leaning and starting to whither. The building itself is located right in the middle of a large field that changes with every season. A small cemetery is located just a few feet from the front steps underneath a stand of large trees. Thousands of visitors pass by this church as they travel along Highway 49 through the Delta, and I wonder if anyone has paid as much attention to this church as I have over the years.
I wanted something else to tell the story of the church in addition to the visual image. Having grown up in the church, I noticed one thing that stays with me no matter what. I forget (or at least get very rusty) on some of the Biblical stories of Lazarus, Zacchaeus, and the other mainstays of Sunday School teachings. However, I can always remember the rich sounds of the old church hymns sung every Sunday morning. I think that we can all relate to how music has impacted our lives and our history. As my fine art work shows, the Blues is an important part of the Delta and Mississippi and served as the foundation for many other genres of modern music. As you look through the history of American music, you will find that the old traditional church hymns served as the foundation for it all.
The Blues genre, Elvis Presley, Rock and Roll, country music, and even Hip Hop can be traced in some way back to the church. So I chose to visually connect the image of the church with everyone’s tie to music and hymns. Multiple pages from an old hymnal serve as the backdrop to the central image. The pages are arranged in a seemingly chaotic pattern similar to how our lives seem at different times. Although things seem chaotic, the words of the songs remain constant, and the melodies can be heard through all the distractions.
In this piece, I carefully selected hymns that were special to my wife and me and used them as the foundation of the backdrop. Some of my favorites include Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty; Here I am Lord; Let Us Break Bread Together; and Blessed Assurance among others. My wife’s favorite hymn, Christ the Lord is Risen Today, was also included along the top row.
The stained wooden frame is representative of a material that is constantly seen across the region in barns, trees, houses, churches, and endless rows of utility poles stretched across the vast landscape. Wood is a material that is used throughout the Delta. Wood is also an important element throughout Biblical history with constant references to carpenters, tree-related parables, and of course the cross.
So every element in this piece has been carefully selected. Even the extreme horizontal proportions of the image are meant to represent the vastness of the flat, horizontal landscape of the Delta.
I am very proud of this piece, and I hope that it speaks to you as well. I feel that it represents the intent of the Agri/Culture of Faith series, and I am excited to build on that body of work over the coming years. This piece is the perfect way to kick off that effort.
Please visit my booth at the Cotton District Arts Festival this Saturday, April 12, to see this piece as well as my other fine art prints from around Mississippi. I will be at booth #283, which will be located at the corner of University Drive and Maxwell Street right in front of the Cotton District fountain.
I look forward to visiting with you this Saturday!