The creations of Burgess Dulaney, fashioned of unfired Mississippi mud, leave one wondering whether his hands were guided by otherworldly forces. The act of transforming a simple earthen mass into what others would later call artwork seemed intuitive for Dulaney. Led by an inner voice or a vivid imagination—and a true love of the feel of wet clay on his hands—Dulaney spent his life choosing the mud carefully, familiarizing himself with its qualities and its limits, and using this knowledge to produce astonishingly powerful raw works of art. He added store-bought marbles for eyes, occasional bits of broken china for teeth, and horsehair to some of his unusual and whimsical creations.
Dulaney, the youngest of twelve children, was born in Itawamba County on 16 December 1914 and never traveled more than a few miles from his birthplace. He spent his childhood working on the family farm, never attended school, and never learned to read or write.
In the mid- to late 1970s Dulaney began to create solid mud sculptures made of clay dug from pits behind the family home. Made without interior support, some of the solid pieces weigh nearly fifty pounds. Most are about the size of a soccer ball or bowling pin. Dulaney also built thin-walled and hollow vessel-like works that refer to utilitarian-style pottery and classic southern face jugs. Dulaney’s gift of several pieces to local merchants led to the discovery of his talent. The endless supply of locally dug clay allowed him to create fascinating creatures, unusual human forms, animal caricatures, and vessels, many of which have stunning similarities to pre-Columbian and American Indian artifacts. Some of the clay, rich in iron oxide, darkens over time, adding an almost eerie effect to these amazing works.
Dulaney experimented with fashioning some pieces from cement but found that he much preferred the feel of natural clay to the harshness of concrete mix. He spent hours working on each piece, removing impurities, shaping the clay by hand, and ensuring that it did not dry too quickly.
Dulaney died on 27 June 2001, leaving behind a body of fascinating art. His work is held in numerous private collections and in a variety of institutions, including the Mississippi Museum of Art and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson; the Art Museum of Southeast Texas in Beaumont; and the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.
- Baking in the Sun: Visionary Images from the South (1987)
- Karekin Goekjian and Robert Peacock, Light of the Spirit: Portraits of Southern Outsider Artists (1998)