To say you are from Mississippi still raises some eye-brows. The years I spent growing up in the McColgan Hotel opened my eyes early to the fact that I was luckier than most, whites or blacks. Opportunities to meet and observe an interesting assortment of folks on a daily basis was a great education in itself. Many years later, with grown children of my own, a dear aunt of mine, Aunt Norma, the wife of one of my mother’s brothers, Uncle Luther Smith, paid me a visit in Florida. She was never one to mince words. Standing straight as an arrow and looking me in the eyes, she said, “Ella Beth, I never thought you would turn out so good… the way that Helen and Fred spoiled you!” I think I might have winced a bit, but quickly replied, “Thank you, Aunt Norma”. Coming from her, I felt pretty good about the comment!
In spite of all the toys, nice clothes, dance and music lessons, etc., I was shown simple pleasures that cost nothing. Aunt Helen and Uncle Fred exposed me to the beauty of Mississippi with many picnics in the lovely woods full of dogwood, honeysuckle, and little wild violets. Aunt Helen used these quiet times to help me memorize and recite the numerous poems and recitation “homework” from Miss Sue Fay Nall’s speech classes. Uncle Fred, on the other hand, always brought along a baseball and bat. This energetic “batting practice” later transferred into my passionate life- long love of tennis. Only recently have I “retired” from years of being on a tennis team. Twice I was lucky enough to be on a team that went to Nationals in Arizona and California.
Along with loving the outdoors I am a fierce animal advocate…to a fault. All that unconditional love from friendly critters is addictive. Our rural acreage has been home to cows, horses, pet pigs, numerous cats and dogs and a special Nubian goat named Daisy, who became my Art muse, appearing in many of my prize winning paintings, prints and drawings.
Drawing came natural for me and I spent many childhood hours sketching paper doll clothes and decorating my doll house. After a Junior High school art class, then a year and a half at Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Florida as a teenager, I knew that becoming an artist was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I still have the Central High School Year book with pen and ink sketches I made as one of the art editors. At Ole Miss I signed up as an art major where Professor Stuart Purser, a well- known Southern artist and educator who was head of the Art Department. He encouraged me, but I became very busy as a freshman Cheerleader for the Ole Miss Rebels, which had absolutely nothing to do with art. It was also the year I fell in love, and a year later married the husband I had for 65 years.
The biggest influence on me for my art was the noted Mississippi painter, Marie Hull. For two years, I went to her house on Belhaven Street in Jackson for a weekly painting lesson. This was in the mid 1950s just before my husband, Bruner, and I moved with our three children to Lakeland, Florida. Marie Hull taught me how to look beyond the “Real” and get to the “Imagined”. I will always be grateful for having her as my mentor for a short period of study. Since I had no pictures to use as illustrations for “Room 4”, I felt I had to try and imagine things from the past and re-create, as best I could, these child hood objects and events.
Hopefully these colored pencil drawings add interesting visuals to my creative non fictional stories. I wrote them because I wanted to leave some kind of personal legacy of what was a different childhood and quite an amazing time in my life in the quintessential Mississippi town that I loved and called home.
Everyone has a story.
- Room 4 book cover
- On the potters wheel
- Pulling a print
- First shipment of books
- Colorful Shoes
- Beth and Debora Coty
- Beth at the Printer