April 27, 2021
In Full Bloom with the Garden Club of Jackson
After an eighteen-month hiatus from touring, my longest stint away from America since I moved to France forty years ago, I hit the ground running in Jackson, Mississippi, for a week packed with workshops and events. Two years ago, when Kathryn Breese proposed a show with the Garden Club of Jackson, I could not have imagined the warm welcome James (Jimmy), Sergio, and I would have received from the people of Jackson. After a long period away from touring, teaching, and public engagement, the Garden Club of Jackson and the Mississippi Museum of Art made this one of the best shows in my career. 

Art, Soul & Bloom, the event series title, ties into my book and perfectly captured the feeling I had throughout my time in Jackson. As a touring artist and as a member of society at large, this week of creativity and engagement felt like a proper spring blossoming. I hope the workshops, film screenings, keynote addresses, and art shows were as fruitful and gratifying for the Garden Club, MMA, and people of Jackson as they were for Sergio, Jimmy, and myself. 

Our generous hosts Cathy and George May showed us the true meaning of hospitality, cheering us on through each busy day–we woke up every morning to a feast of fresh fruit and croissants prepared by Cathy. She greeted us each night with hot-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies and a smile. Her wonderful husband George was always there to offer a joke and “a little taste” of his aged bourbon. The Mays—Cathy, George, and their three wonderful daughters Elizabeth, Laura Kate, and Caroline—opened their home and hearts to my sons, my assistant, and me, and we had the most fun being a part of their loving family for the week.

Thanks to the stellar organization and talented membership of the Garden Club of Jackson, I am proud to announce we completed more workshops and shows than I have ever done in such a short amount of time. From day one to our very last morning in Jackson, Lyn McMillin, President of the Garden Club of Jackson, orchestrated events, made introductions, kept us on schedule, and was always ready to help move a painting or ten—a true leader, with a creative spirit and talent for teamwork. The event chairs, Dolly Goings and Holly Crystal, offered the hands-on help we needed around the clock, even staying to break down the show, packing the car with us until midnight.

Following the first oil painting workshop, my team assembled at the Mississippi Museum of Art to set up a show featuring my son Sergio’s sculptures, paintings, and son Jimmy’s film. The set-up team included the outstanding women of the Garden Club of Jackson and Lind Bussey, longtime Sweetbriar friend and trusted advisor, whose expertise and judgment are invaluable. No one can do what Lind does: set up a show of my paintings exactly how I would place everything. Her tireless work ethic and equally tireless good humor are invaluable to me, and being with her is always a highlight of any trip to Jackson. 

One major trip highlight was the American premiere of James Ruffato’s film “Jill Steenhuis: Painting the Invisible“, which received a standing ovation.

Sunset Painting Demo

Painting in the Walker Garden –

The gracious and talented Mrs. Gloria Walker hosted my first oil painting workshop of the trip, and for two beautiful days, her garden inspired and delighted everyone present. It was an honor to paint in the Walker Garden at MMA at sunset on Tuesday, April 13, with Mrs. Walker and her grandson in the front row of spectators. The charitable beneficiary of this show is a cause close to Mrs. Walker and her family. They led the initiative to transform the Payton City Garden into a landscaped Alyne Payton Cutting and Culinary Garden in memory of their dear friend Alyne Payton.

After three busy days of plein air workshops, shows, and outdoor demonstrations at the Mississippi Museum of Art, we packed up the car with the help of the Garden Club and MMA staff, and the next day set it all up again at the home of our new and dear friends Dolly and Wesley Goings. The constant support of the Goings was indispensable, from coordinating and working events, providing folding tables and chairs for workshops, to opening their home for a “bonus” exhibition of Sergio’s and my work after our museum show. Dolly and Wesley are the rare kinds of people who you befriend and treasure immediately. Thank you for letting us take over your exquisite home and for all the help in between. Mrs. Kathryn Breese, who made the initial connection between the Garden Club of Jackson and Art in Provence, a relationship I hope will continue to grow, expand, and flourish. Not only did Katie Breese bring my name to the Garden Club, but she also hosted the second two-day workshop I taught while in Jackson. Katie’s home and garden impress all who visit this peaceful green oasis with the gardener’s gentle guiding hand in perfect harmony with nature. Without Katie, the spark for this fantastic series of workshops, talks, and shows hosted by the Garden Club of Jackson may never have ignited, and I am so grateful to her and the Garden Club for their continued support and collaboration.

Throughout the past year of confinement, teaching workshops and engaging with art students has been one of my deepest-felt losses, and it was an absolute joy to be teaching again! Thank you to all of those who joined – my time with you was a blessing beyond measure!

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