William Robert “Hollie” Hollingsworth Jr. was one of Mississippi’s most productive artists of the 1930s and 1940s. His ability to capture the regional landscape and people of Mississippi in his sketches, oil paintings, and watercolors led him to be known as the Faulkner of Visual Arts. Along with his contemporary, Eudora Welty, whom he had known since childhood, Hollingsworth played an integral part in elevating the perception of the arts in his home state.
Hollingsworth was born on 17 February 1910 in the house on Jackson’s President Street where his parents and thirteen-year-old sister, Isabel, lived. His mother, Willie Belle Van Zile Hollingsworth, herself a watercolorist, died when the boy was not quite a year old, forcing his father, William Robert Hollingsworth Sr., to the forefront of young William’s life. The elder Hollingsworth became a partner in Hollingsworth and Tyson Real Estate and Rental Agents, working alongside his son-in-law, Fred A. Tyson. Among the firm’s most significant contributions was the development of Jackson’s Belhaven neighborhood.
The young Hollingsworth was keenly aware of the activities and the people in his downtown Jackson neighborhood; later in life he expanded on these early observations. The black community along Jackson’s Farish Street provided the inspiration for much of his art, as in his oil painting High Farish (1941) and his watercolor Sudden Shower (1937).
Hollingsworth graduated from Jackson High School in 1928. He studied at the University of Mississippi and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, graduating in 1934. He married fellow student Celia Jane Oakley in 1932, and the two had a son, William Robert Hollingsworth III, in 1933. The family returned to Jackson after Hollingsworth was unable to find work in Chicago, and he began work as a clerk with the Federal Emergency Relief Agency. He held this position for four years, until the agency was disbanded, and then focused on earning a living as a working artist.
Hollingsworth began to receive recognition for his artwork in the mid-1930s, when his paintings Vagabond’s Respite and Tired, Oh Lord, Tired won awards from the Mississippi Art Association. In 1937 he won the William Tuthill Prize from the Art Institute of Chicago for his work Siesta.
In 1941 Hollingsworth played a key role in the establishment of the Millsaps College Art Department, where he worked as an art instructor alongside his friend, fellow Mississippi artist Karl Wolfe. Throughout this time Hollingsworth suffered from varying degrees of depression as he worried about his family’s finances, his father’s ailing health, and the destruction brought on by World War II. Hollingsworth enlisted in the US Navy in 1942 but was released after only two weeks because of his poor eyesight. Crestfallen, he came back to Mississippi, where his depression deepened and he developed alcoholism. The following year saw the realization of one of Hollingsworth’s greatest fears, the death of his father, further increasing his depression, although his work continued to garner praise and awards.
On 1 August 1944 Hollingsworth took his own life. The Mississippi Museum of Art’s permanent collection now contains more than three hundred of his works.
- René Paul Barilleux, ed., Passionate Observer: Eudora Welty among Artists of the Thirties (2002)
- Jane Oakley Hollingsworth and O. C. McDavid, eds., Hollingsworth: The Man, the Artist, and His Work (1981)
- Mississippi History Now website, http://mshistory.k12.ms.us
- St. Joseph Abbey website, www.saintjosephabbey.com