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HISTORY

This gifted group of artists working in the land that nurtured James Audubon, Walter Anderson, Marie Hull, and George Ohr, to name a few, work together with an intensity that easily produces masterworks. The Mississippi Art Colony is another one of Mississippi’s secret treasures.

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Fontaine1948 – The Mississippi Art Colony was organized at the Allisons Wells Hotel in Way, Mississippi. It flourished there for 15 years under the guidance of John and Hosford Fontaine, owners of the hotel until it was destroyed by fire.

Allison Wells' Hotel
Allison Wells’ Hotel

 

1963 – A core group tackled the job of re-organizing and finding a new home for “the Colony”, as most called it. They found Stafford Springs, near Heidelberg, where workshops were held for the next seven years. With the move to Stafford in ’63, Colony became something special – one of the very few art groups managed and directed by the artists themselves. All the work involved in putting on a workshop setting dates, securing instructors and prizes, sending out notices and publicity – everything was, and still is, done by the artist-members.

Stafford Springs
Stafford Springs

 

1970 – Colony switched to the Pinehurst Hotel in Laurel, trying a city location for a change. Then urban renewal forced another move.

 

Fall, 1973 – Colony came to its present “home”, Camp Henry S. Jacobs in Utica, Mississippi.

As Colony grew, however, it became necessary to select a director who receives a minimum wage to take care of his or her expense.

Colony rents Camp Henry S. Jacobs for Spring and Fall workshops each year. It is located in a beautiful rural setting with cabins, painting pavilion, dining  and meeting halls, swimming pool, tennis courts,  skating rink and theater, nature trails, and a beautiful lake.  An extrordinary spot tucked away in the rolling hills of middle Mississippi, twenty miles south of Jackson.

 

Camp Henry S. Jacobs
Camp Henry S. Jacobs

 

The hotels and motels that were our headquarters in past years had front desks to handle room and board charges. Here at Camp Jacobs, Colony must be its own “front desk.” We have worked out the mechanics to do this.

Today, outstanding artist/instructors teach the five day sessions which are held about the last week in April and the first week in October. Beginning on Monday afternoon for set-up, meet and greet, dinner and a talk by the visiting artist/instructor… and winding up on Saturday with a morning critique of work produced during the session.

Neither Camp Jacobs nor the Mississippi Art Colony make any profit from these arrangements. The intention is to break even.  The Smithsonian lists the Colony as the country’s oldest artist-run organization of it’s kind.

The Art Colony was founded at Allison Wells Hotel in Way, Mississippi in 1948. John and Hosford Fontaine were the leaders. In 1963, due to a catastrophic fire at the Alison Wells Hotel, the Colony was moved and reorganized…….

 

 

HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI ART COLONY

Compiled for the 50th Anniversary, 1998,  by Jean Loeb, long time member and secretary of MAC.

 

1948 – Allison’s Wells…
The Mississippi Art Colony was born in 1948, at historic Allison’s Wells in Way, Mississippi. It was Spring. Mrs. D. C. (Leith) Latimer was strolling the grounds with Hosford and John Fontaine, owners of the resort, and Karl and Mildred Wolfe, well-known artists. Leith Latimer exclaimed “Wouldn’t this be a grand place for an art colony!” All five agreed with enthusiasm, and the project was off and running.Allison’s Wells was indeed a “grand place” for an art colony. A pavilion for painting was available, of course. There was the hotel for housing, with a fine dining room serving delicious food. There was a fish pond, a swimming pool, and horses for riding.The first workshop took place in October of 1948.  Director/Instructors included Karl Wolfe, Mildred Wolfe and Caroline Compton. Twenty people took part in the opening session.

Beginners and professionals alike were, and continued to be, involved. Classes were somewhat structured, with sketch-time encouraged right after breakfast, portrait demonstrations set for a specific hour, plus landscape, flower, and still-life painting. In the beginning, two instructors taught in the morning, and two others in the afternoon. There was even time available for private instruction. And each evening a criticism session took place.

The first three workshops were guided by Karl Wolfe, Mrs. G. D. Hyams, Mrs. D. C. Latimer, and Mrs. John E. (Hosford) Fontaine. By the time the fourth one was scheduled, success had caught up with the project, and some kind of organization was sorely needed.

So in 1950, the first elected officers took over. Mrs. Florence Barton, of Canton, became President. There were three vice-presidents, each with a particular responsibility: Miss Ruth Gill Price, of Jackson, Mrs. Ruth Ivy, of Memphis, and Mrs. E. I. Robinson, of Baton Rouge. Mildred Keene, from Meridian, was Secretary, and Miss Ruth Forbes, from Jackson, was Treasurer. Eventually a switch was made to an elected Board of Directors, which in turn selected its own officers.A year after the Allison’s Art Colony came into existence, the group arranged to offer scholarships. Four were open to students at MSCW, Millsaps, Mississippi Southern, and the University of Mississippi. These were for weekends, and covered instruction. The fifth, also giving board and instruction for a weekend, was awarded to a high school student.The Allison’s Art Colony flourished for 15 years, and life there during workshops was delightful. Hosford Fontaine would often invite various members of the group for tea. The first Artists and Models Ball was organized in 1951, at the end of the Spring session, with music, dancing, and even a floor show. Prizes were awarded for the fancy headgear competition, Eloise McLellan being among the winners.

As the years rolled by, and the total of sessions mounted to nearly 30, a few changes and additions took place. Summer Paint Days, on Tuesdays, began in 1951, and in the 1960’s many requests resulted in some 3-day February workshops. One of them became known as The Snow Colony (for obvious reasons) and participants had a ball with the white stuff.

 

1963 – FIRE…

 

 

 

Suddenly everything changed! On January 15, 1963, a fire swept through the hotel at Allison’s Wells, and destroed the old resort. Mrs. Fontaine lost not only the hotel, but all its vauable contents. Fine antiques were gone. Paintings were lost, both the hotel’s collection and prize-winners from past workshops.As personally distressing as the tragedy was for Hosford Fontaine, artists of the area were worried about the future of the organization itself. A group of members met soon afterwards, at the Stafford Springs Motor lodge and Dude Ranch, in Heidelberg, to see what could be done–and where–to keep the Art Colony alive. Mr. and Mrs. Johnnie Blanks were wonderfully cooperative, offering a chicken house studio, which was altered for the painters’ use. Translucent panels were placed in the roof for better lighting, and a bathroom (for non-chickens) was added. “The Chicken House” had come into existence.With everything falling in place nicely, after the fire, the newly named Mississippi Art Colony swung into action right on schedule. A Spring workshop, just months after the fire, was led by Townsend Wolfe, and Alvin Sella. A Board of Directors was selected, a workshop Director, and a Treasurer. Lallah Perry was named temporary Director for this first workshop, and soon Bob Richerson became the official Director, serving faithfully and well for many years.

Large attendance at the workshops put a squeeze on Stafford’s accommodations, so the Blanks offered a small house for the painters’ use. It was immediately dubbed the Hen House, as a logical adjunct to The Chicken House studio.

One memorable evening, a few people began to paint a mural, everyone pitching in to create whatever images they wished. Homer Casteel wrote a legend in Spanish across the bottom of the wall, using every double “l” word he could think of, so that the letters would all point upward: mi caballo ballo mi lleva……no great message, but a fine design device. Before the evening had ended, instructor Alvin Sella had been routed out of bed to come join the creative fun. Johnnie and Dot liked the mural so much, that they preserved it, hanging a floor to ceiling curtain over the wall area, for those times when the occupants of the Hen House might not be art aficionados.On another evening, there was a mysterious “happening”, which culminated in Halcyone Barnes’ being borne down the hill on a mattress, supported by six or eight people. The workshops were not all “work”.Bill Rowell was our next Director, following Bob Richerson. By that time, the Mississippi Art Colony was about to move to nearby Laurel. Johnnie and Dot Blanks had sold their place to a man who tried to make a roadhouse-type operation of the restaurant. This was not too successful, partly due to the construction of Interstate 59, which drew off most of the traffic. Seeing that its “home” was about to close, Colony went searching for a new base of operations.
 

Stafford Springs…

 

 

 

At Stafford there was an attempt made to accommodate beginners apart from more experienced artists. This arrangement did not last too many years, since some of the newer painters did not take kindly to being segregated as beginners. But the pattern of ten-day sessions, with a series of instructors, which had begun at Allison’s, was continued. And painters could still come for whatever length of time they wished, suiting their schedules to whichever of the available teachers they wished to study under. Scholarships remained on the agenda, and many college students retain vivid memories of their Colony experience.Stafford Springs was quite different from the old Allison’s Wells environment. There were cottages spread around the grounds on one side of the road, four rooms to each. This, ironically, had been the site of another old resort hotel, of which nothing now remained but a few foundation ruins. The motel’s restaurant was across the highway, and when the group was enjoying cocktail hour in one or another of the small rooms, it was often hard to move them across the road for dinner.Johnnie and Dot Blanks planned several hay-rides over the years, hauling the group into the woods on a flat-bed trailer, pulled by a pick-up truck. Once arrived, thjey found bales of hay for seating, a blazing fire, and lots of delicious cook-out food.Large attendance at the workshops put a squeeze on Stafford’s accommodations, so the Blanks offered a small house for the painters’ use. It was immediately dubbed the Hen House, as a logical adjunct to The Chicken House studio.

 

 

1970 – Laurel…

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The Pinehurst Hotel in downtown Laurel, provided a studio in basement space that had formerly been a rathskellar. More than once there were drop-ins from the alley, demanding beer. The hotel did provide room for us to gather in before dinner, an improvement over private happy-hour get-togethers. And the city of Laurel was most hospitable, entertaining the painters at wonderful parties, and hanging Colony shows at the Lauren Rogers Museum. But the hotel was old and far from ideal. Since urban renewal was threatening, it was necessary to go house-hunting once more.During the Laurel years, Bill Rowell resigned for health reasons and Lallah Perry was again drafted to serve, with R. B. “Jake” Jacoby, as co-director for about a year. Then Alex Loeb was elected President/Director, functioning as Director until 1976, when Bess Dawson took the job, but stayng on as President for twelve more years.  Jean Loeb had been asked to take the Secretary/Treasurer job, while Stafford Springs was headquarters. She held these two responsibilities for 27 years and soon took on the newsletter, which had lapsed.Under Alex Loeb, the Mississippi Art Colony was incorporated as a non-profit entity, making it eligible for funding from the Mississippi Arts Commission. Grants from the Commission gave much-needed help over several years. Attendance began to dwindle, with only 21 painters signing on in the Fall of 1971, and these monies were to Colony’s survival.Another change made during Loeb’s tenure, was the switch to a single payment of $12, rather than the assortment of charges previously used to figure up the painters’ bills.
 

Camp Henry Jacobs…

 

 

 

The Laurel stay was short: 1970-1973. Soon the Henry S, Jacobs Camp was discovered, and “home” became Utica, MS. The Art Colony has been meeting there every since. Extensive renovations at the camp in 1996 required a temporary relocation to Canton, where the Spring session was held. We were made to feel most welcome at the Triola Hotel there, but the lake and pine woods of Jacobs Camp was where we belonged, and back we went to Utica in the Fall.After 1970, workshops were shortened, lasting from Wednesday night through Sunday noon, and held regularly at the end of April and September. Before that, dates had been juggled to accommodate instructors and events, such as the State Fair in Jackson. But it was finally decided that the uncertainty was not good, and that the “other events” should work around us. In 1997 another day was added: sessions now start on Tuesday night, ending Sunday
noon. As in the past, a juried show is selected to travel about the state until the next workshop, and prizes are awarded at a Saturday night banquet.In 1989, both Alex Loeb, President, and Director Bess Dawson resigned. Jamie Tate became Director, and has served with marvelous efficiency ever since. Sandra Halat took the reins as President, followed by George Ann McCullough. New eyes and minds brought careful thought and consideration to Colony affairs, and various changes, especially under Pres. McCullough, took place.The show is now selected on the first day, instead of at week’s end, which allows members to enjoy the 22 – 25 works as they hang in the dining room through the week.
An over-all workshop fee was set, with a non-refundable deposit required on Wednesday (now Tuesday) afternoon before classes begin, so that Board members no longer miss several hours of studio time in order to attend. A limit of 45 painters was put into effect: one teacher cannot properly handle any more.The Mississippi Art Colony is, as far as we know, the longest-lived, artist-run, non-profit art organization in the United States. Because of this the Smithsonian Museum asked for, and received, our records, which are now a part of the Museum’s “American Arts” Collection. “Colony” is run by the standard roster of officers: President, Vice-president, Secretary, and Treasurer, elected by a nine-member Board of Directors, with committee heads appointed from the general membership. There is a Workshop Director, who–with the exception of instructors–is the only paid worker in the entire enterprise. Everyone else is a volunteer, doing all the work involved in putting on a workshop: setting dates, securing teachers and prizes, sending out notices and publicity. All this is done by artist-volunteers.Current President, is Jim Perry, of Starkville, with a dedicated Board, and fine committee chairs. Summer sessions for this guiding group have become a part of the routine, helping to keep track of the many things that need attention during the six- or seven-month gap between workshops.

The Mississippi Art Colony, at age 50, is strong and healty. We look forward to many more decades of painting workshops.

Jean Loeb,  1998

 
 

 

 

 

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