Alongside museums and galleries, art colonies thrive in Mississippi. The Mississippi and Tougaloo art colonies are formal examples of such organizations, while the area of the Gulf Coast from Bay St. Louis to Biloxi is also frequently described as a colony.
Founded in 1948, the Mississippi Art Colony is one of the oldest artist-run organizations in the United States. Past and present members include Marie Hull, Lallah Perry, Andrew Bucci, Richard Zoellner, and the “Summit Three”—Bess Dawson, Halcyone Barnes, and Ruth Holmes. Membership requires an invitation from existing members.
Originally known as the Allison’s Wells Art Colony, the organization formed and met at the Allison’s Wells Hotel in Allison’s Wells, where the hosts were hotel owners John and Hosford Fontaine. When a fire destroyed the hotel in 1962, the group relocated to Stafford Springs, near Heidelberg. The colony moved to the Pinehurst Hotel in Laurel in 1970 but decided to return to a rural location three years later. Since 1973 colony members have gathered at Camp Henry Jacobs in Utica.
Colony members currently meet for a five-day workshop every April and October. There, in addition to peer critique, members receive the tutelage of an invited regional or nationally recognized artist-instructor. After formal talks and a critique, the instructor judges artwork to be included in the Colony Travel Show, which is displayed at various public locations in Mississippi. In 1998, as part of the colony’s fiftieth anniversary, longtime patron and teacher Hugh Williams curated a traveling exhibition featured at museums and galleries around the state. The colony’s records from 1954 to 1991 are held at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.
The annual Tougaloo Art Colony was founded in 1997, the first such arts organization at a historically black college or university. (Tougaloo College, which hosts the colony, was founded in 1868 and holds a noted collection of African American art.) Participants produce work under the guidance of established artists and art instructors from around the Southeast and beyond. Unlike the Mississippi Art Colony, with its single-instructor format, the Tougaloo Art Colony enlists six to seven artist-instructors “selected for their outstanding achievement [and] teaching influence, and who represent a variety of artistic media, geographic regions, and ethnic backgrounds.” Since its inception, the colony has grown from a student body of fifteen to seventy-five or more. An annual Thursday night “Hot Art Exhibit” is open to the public, features artwork from both students and instructors, and in part benefits scholarship, art supply, and textbook funds for the Tougaloo Art Department. In 2009 the colony added a three-day children’s art camp.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast is often considered an art colony unto itself. Working artists flourish in Ocean Springs, Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, and other cities, while the area as a whole is noted for its galleries, museums, public art spaces, and art festivals. From the generations-old Shearwater Pottery to the recently completed Ohr-O’Keefe Museum, the Gulf Coast gives visitors ample opportunities to interact with creative culture and enterprise.
The prevalence of art and artists along the Gulf Coast has resulted in part from the migration and/or vacationing of wealthy patrons from beyond the state who brought their creative interests with them. Along with the Northeast, New Orleans has had a particularly strong influence on the area. Beginning in the early twentieth century, noted New Orleans artists such as William Steen, Charles and Ethel Hutson, and William Posey Silva first visited and then relocated to the region, inspired by the bounty of natural subject matter. In addition, many artists from the region have influenced the art world, including Walter Anderson, Richmond Barthé, Dusti Bongé, and George Ohr, among others. Another contributor to the arts colony designation may have to do with the coast’s history of greater social permissiveness than has existed other areas of the state. To some extent, rigid social codes were eased on the coast as a consequence of its status as a vacation area, the influx of visitors from beyond the South, the proximity to New Orleans, and the established gambling and resort industry. In this environment, the perceived progressiveness often associated with artists was at least somewhat more welcomed if not encouraged.
- Patti Carr Black, Art in Mississippi, 1720–1980 (1998)
- Patti Carr Black, American Masters of the Mississippi Gulf Coast: George Ohr, Dusti Bongé, Walter Anderson, Richmond Barthé (2008)
- Mississippi Art Colony website, http://www.msartcolony.org
- Smithsonian Archives of American Art website, http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/collection/missart.htm
- Norma Watkins, The Last Resort: Taking the Mississippi Cure (2011)