Marian Carcache: The South I love

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The South, especially Alabama and Mississippi, may be the butt end of a lot of jokes about education and culture, and sometimes for good reason, but both states supply those who seek it a constant stream of art-related joy, and I am thankful to live where I do.

Over the summer, I visited Russell County’s own Butch Anthony at his Possum Trot museum and auction. In the early fall, my son signed me up for a ceramics class with master potter Po Wiese. I wasn’t the best in the class by any stretch, but I was honored to work alongside talented artists.

Recently, I spent an evening listening to Mississippi-born singer-songwriter Kate Campbell. In November, the Auburn University theatre department will feature a play inspired by Alabama author Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory.” And presently, Auburn’s Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art (JCSM) is featuring an exhibit of work by Mississippi artist Walter Anderson and recently spotlighted George Ohr, the Mad Potter of Biloxi.

The preceding paragraphs don’t even scratch the surface of how many brilliant writers, artists, and performers the south – and specifically Alabama and Mississippi – have produced.  But for now, I’ll focus a moment on Walter Anderson.

Anderson never sought fame, but is perhaps best known, ironically, for his reclusive years living alone in a primitive cottage on Horn Island, a solitude he rowed eight miles to obtain.

He believed that an artist has a duty to give thanks for nature’s “voluptuous return”; his work has been described as “a psalm of thanksgiving.” Just as he did not see art as a product, he did not see the natural world as a resource to be destroyed by man’s greed or superficial needs. Sadly, much of his work was destroyed when flooding from Hurricane Katrina invaded his cottage, the community center he had painted, and other buildings where his art had been preserved after his death. His family, however, waded through debris to save what they could, and have started afresh in their efforts to preserve his memory and his work.

Like Van Gogh, in his later life Anderson was in and out of mental hospitals — possibly a result of depression over his father’s death, bouts of malaria and undulant fever, and constant struggle to make a living with art. Eventually, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Walter Anderson died in 1965 at the age of 62, but he made the South I love — the one that nurtures beauty, creativity, and art, rather than breeding ugliness, violence, and destruction — a lovelier place.

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