Monday, January 24, 2022

Mistaken for Miriam: An Oxford Whodunnit

Many mistook this Vicki Stephens for the work of the late Miriam Weems.
Many mistook this Vicki Stephens for the work of the late Miriam Weems.

Cracking the case of the would-be Miriam Weems painting

By Hillary Houston, journalism graduated, Meek School of Journalism and New Media

Its not everyday an artist’s work is mistakenly credited to the distinguished Merriam Weems. Once maybe, twice is quite a mix up, but after three times someone has some explaining to do.

It all started as soon as Double Decker season rolled around, when a vibrant, color-splashed Double Decker bus scene was used in several Double Decker news articles and publicity promotions.

The painting was featured in Invitation Oxford magazine and the Double Decker Guide as a Weems original from her book, Mostly Mississippi.

After several confused phone call complaints from concerned readers, an investigation to find the painting’s real artist was well underway. First stop: Quail Ridge Press, the publishers of Mostly Mississippi.

After a second confirmation from Quail Creek Press that the Double Decker painting was in fact Weems’s, there was only one thing left to do: find Weems’s book and settle the issue once and for all.

I knew exactly where I could find a copy, and rushed to my grandmother’s coffee table. For years, I’ve flipped through the hot pink hardback, admiring each entry, but this time was different. I was on a mission.

My fingers couldn’t move quickly enough, page after page after page, until there it was, “Double Decker” by Merriam Weems. Just one problem: It was not the same painting.

Crazy? Maybe. Impossible? Not a chance. I was at a loss, a dead end, and then my phone rang. The answer I had been looking for found me.

Vicki Stevens
Vicki Stevens

Folks, meet Vicki Stevens, the Oxford painter and mother of the 2012 Double Decker painting commissioned by Something Southern, a shop on the Square.

“Something Southern has asked me for the past three years to do a special painting for Double Decker,” said Stevens. “They put it in their store, and they use it for t-shirts. They sell the original and prints and even little postcard prints for souvenirs.”

With bold-colored Oxford scenes and some pups and tots for good measure, it’s a wonder how many times Stevens’ work has been misidentified. Stevens chuckled while admitting she could see how someone might have mistaken her work for Weems’s. Overall, the artist’s credit mix-up was quite the compliment and surprise.

“She (Weems) was a wonderful artist. It’s flattering to even be compared to her,” said Stevens. “It was kind of funny and amusing how it happened.”

Now that we know the truth about Vicki Stevens, perhaps this year’s commissioned piece will be remembered as none other than a Stevens.

“Each year, we try to make it look a little different,” said Stevens. “This year, we decided to go with more of a candid with the people and the tents, because you know how Double Decker is chaos and fun.”

Stevens, a mother of three and successful artist, knows a thing or two about chaos and fun.

“Since I’ve had three kids, I put a tarp out between the dining room and living room, and I sit in the middle. That way I can call out spelling words, and take care of being a mom too,” said Stevens. “I paint right in the big chaos of my house.”

With her painting process often as colorful as her work, Stevens credits her own work to her love for color.

“I’ve always loved color. I know it sounds silly, but there are feelings you get from color,” said Stevens. “I really like to look at something, pull the colors from it, that maybe other people don’t notice at first glance.”

It’s funny how those tricky first glances can be sometimes. It may only take one to make a mistake, or create a masterpiece. In the Stevens case, I think its safe to say the crime that was committed was the best of both mistake and masterpiece.

Here’s a slideshow of the steps of Stevens’s creation of her Double Decker painting for this year: