Born on 12 January 1946 in Montgomery, Alabama, William Carter Baggett grew up and attended public schools in Nashville, Tennessee, before earning a bachelor’s degree in art from Auburn University in 1968 and a master of fine arts degree from the school five years later. He taught in the art and design programs at the University of Mississippi (1973–76), Auburn University (1976–86), and the University of Southern Mississippi (1986–2010) prior to retiring and returning to his studio endeavors on a full-time basis.
Baggett worked primarily in watercolors and printmaking in the 1970s. Many of his works from this period were inspired by William Faulkner’s real and imaginary counties, Lafayette and Yoknapatawpha, and were exhibited during annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha conferences in Oxford. Baggett began using egg tempera in his paintings in the 1980s, continued his interest in printmaking, and became known as a master in color lithography. Baggett’s early work is usually labeled representational and figurative, realistic and traditional, but as art historian and critic Renata Karlin explains, “he employs the structural world of forms, landscapes, figures, and buildings to seduce the viewer to enter the pictorial space” and then see beyond the surface. “Painting to Baggett is a way of seeing and about the role of pictorial elements ofin his words‘creating a situation; where everything is posed and becomes significant.’”
From 1992 through 2005 Baggett dedicated most of his creative time to designing and painting monumental murals for public spaces in Mississippi and Alabama. The Spirit That Builds (1995, alkyd oil on sandblasted stainless steel, 10 feet by 167 feet) depicts the history of South Mississippi in a circular panorama hanging thirty feet above the main desk of the Hattiesburg, Petal, and Forrest County Library. Sharing Life (1999, alkyd enamel on stainless steel, 22 feet by 11 feet) at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson celebrates the diverse roles of women. Alma Mater (2003, oil on canvas, 36 feet by 18 feet), displayed in the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University, evokes daily life on the campus and in the community.
In 2006 Baggett returned to the small rectangular panels he previously used for watercolors and egg tempera paintings but continued using alkyd oil pigments adopted for his murals. The Intelligent Eye—Reality Re-Seen, an exhibition of thirty oils painted between 2006 and 2010, previewed in Hattiesburg in September 2010 before beginning a tour of museums across the United States.
Baggett’s paintings and prints are included in collections throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan. He has worked with French and American art publishers to execute fifteen original print editions in ateliers in Paris and New York. The US Information Agency has placed his prints in US embassy collections throughout the world. He currently maintains studios in Mississippi and Maine, where he continues to paint “reconfigured” landscapes and figurative images.
- William Baggett website, www.williambaggett.com
- Patti Carr Black, Art in Mississippi, 1720–1980 (1998)
- Renata Karlin, ed., The Intelligent Eye—Reality Re-Seen: Recent Paintings by William Baggett (2010)