Born in Rolling Fork around 1916, Rev. Herman D. “Preacher” Dennis—artist, self-styled preacher, World War II veteran, and devoted husband—led a difficult life but always believed that he had been spared for a purpose. His mother died during childbirth, leaving her infant son alone with her for six days until someone discovered him, and he also survived a deadly tornado and a wound sustained during his tour of duty in the South Pacific during World War II.
In 1984 Dennis and Margaret Rogers married after he promised to transform her humble Vicksburg grocery store into something truly extraordinary. The result was a remarkable art environment, Margaret’s Grocery and Market, the Home of the Double-Headed Eagle, located on Highway 61, five miles from the center of Vicksburg.
The brightly colored, geometric hodgepodge of structures and bold signage that comprised Margaret’s Grocery added up to much more than the sum of individual parts. Rev. Dennis’s message was a highly personal hybrid that mixes quotes from the New Testament with Masonic symbols, which did not seem to contradict each other but instead were unified by the overall aesthetic. To create the exterior, including a number of impressive towers, he added cinder blocks, sheet metal, and found objects to what was the original grocery store, painting everything predominantly bright red, white, pink, and yellow, with some blues and greens, mainly in a dynamic checkerboard motif. The interior, densely filled with Mardi Gras beads, Christmas lights, newspaper clippings, and additional mystical signs and images, provided a mysterious contrast to the vibrantly colored exterior.
As is the case with many self-taught visionary artists in the South who are also ministers, Rev. Dennis did not shun the nonbeliever. He constructed a chapel in a brightly painted bus located at the side of the central structure, complete with pews, pulpit, and King James Bible and rendered impressively shiny with silver paint, duct tape, and aluminum foil. Multiple signs proclaimed, “All is Welcome / Jews and Gentiles.”
At once an art installation and a devotional environment, Margaret’s Grocery bore witness to the nature of its creator, who never distinguished between his callings as artist and preacher. Margaret Dennis died in October 2009 at the age of ninety-four. Two years later Gov. Haley Barbour and the Mississippi Arts Council commended Herman and Margaret Dennis and Margaret’s Grocery with a Senate resolution proclaiming a week of awareness and preservation in honor of the couple and their “Bible Castle to God.” Herman Dennis died in 2012. The Mississippi Folk Art Foundation formed in 2013 to try to preserve Margaret’s Grocery.
- Carol Crown, ed., Coming Home! Self-Taught Artists, the Bible, and the American South (2004)
- Chris Thompson, Chad Chisolm, and Dorothy-Dean Thomas, Mississippi Folklife (1999)
- Bruce West, Arkansas Review (2001)
- Stephen Young, Southern Quarterly (2000–2001)