Eugenia Summer is a quiet example of the tremendous influence that art academics have had on art appreciation and understanding in Mississippi. Emily Eugenia Summer was born on 13 June 1923 in Newton and grew up in Yazoo City. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Mississippi State College for Women (now Mississippi University for Women [MUW]) and a master’s degree from Columbia University before joining the Mississippi State College faculty as an associate professor of art in 1949. She spent summers studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, California College of Arts and Crafts, Seattle University, and Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina.
Summer’s first juried show in Mississippi was the Mississippi Art Association’s 1947 National Watercolor Exhibition, and her artwork has subsequently been featured at many juried exhibits, including the Eight Decade exhibition at Georgia College, selected by Elaine de Kooning.
Summer was one of the earliest and most successful artists in academe working in the modern form. During the 1950s she was drawn to the work of the Precisionists, painting “themes derived from factories, oil fields, industrial shapes, trains, boats in dock, machinery. Even paintings that seem non-objective in the end, almost always start with such things.” After the 1960s she became even more experimental, boldly pursuing color juxtapositions and spatial explorations, adding a figurative touch of fantasy. Her themes seem to link the passage of time and the process of change. During the 1970s Summer used plastics as a sculptural medium while continuing to focus on color. Summer’s paintings were among the first pieces of nonobjective art acquired by the Mississippi Art Association, which provided the core of the Mississippi Museum of Art’s current collection of her work. Her ink-on-paper work Barricade, which appeared the museum’s 2007 exhibition, The Mississippi Story, was acquired in 1968. It explores color juxtapositions and spatial relationships using industrial allusions. Barricade and other works are marked by the sectioning or bordering of space by specific boundary and/or pattern lines and the imprecise filling-in of these sections with different colors.
Summer was named dean of the MUW Division of Fine and Performing Arts in 1982, and she retired from MUW in 1987, receiving emerita status. The Fine Arts Gallery there was named for her in 2002. Three years later, the school awarded her an honorary doctorate “in recognition of her lifelong service to and support of the university.” A major influence on the thousands of young women who attended her classes, Summer became one of Mississippi’s most exhibited nontraditional artists.
Summer died on 23 April 2016.
- Patti Carr Black, Art in Mississippi, 1720–1980 (1998)
- Patti Carr Black, The Mississippi Story (2007)
- Jackson Clarion-Ledger (26 April 2016)