Saturday, February 4, 2023

Taylor, Mississippi is an Artist’s Town

There’s no doubt that Taylor is an artist’s town, known for more than catfish and resting just a quick drive away from Oxford. The sporadic rain let late spring greenery crawl over a small town’s buildings. Swings creak in the city hall’s lawn with a large draping tree nearby. Yellow flowers shoot through a wire fence surrounding a quiet road.
There are no stoplights. The buildings reveal Taylor’s past as a small farming town before its revitalization in the 1970s when artists took advantage of costs of the Victorian-era fixer uppers. Painters, sculptors, photographers and potters started to repopulate Taylor.

Taylor Arts Gallery

By the 1990s, Taylor became a bustling, creative town whose reputation was solidified when the first art gallery opened in 1997 by the husband/wife duo, Christine Schultz and Marc Deloach.

Marc Deloach and Schultz
Marc Deloach and Christine Schultz

Taylor Arts Gallery is a beautiful Victorian home with a wraparound porch and hand-painted signs inviting patrons inside. The gallery is located across the street from the famous Old Taylor Grocery.
“The restaurant is a tourist stop,” said Schultz, a painter/writer/jeweler. “Business swells when the grocery opens – we have people walking over here, there, anywhere.”
Schultz remembers the quick boom Taylor Arts Gallery experienced shortly after opening: “We didn’t have a landline. We didn’t advertise. Yet people found us, bought from us, and told their friends. Even now, we have college students who returned – some with friends, some with babies in strollers – because they remembered stepping in here years ago after eating the catfish over there.”
Schultz paints the idyllic countryside in acrylic, in addition to the colorful wooden fish her husband, Deloach, carves for her. She is also a jeweler. Her bright blue and silver bracelets and earrings glisten just down the hall from the Gallery’s entrance.
Deloach is a skilled crafts man. He is most known for salvaging wood from abandoned buildings in the Delta. His work can be found throughout the mid-South, including: a conference table at the Sally Barksdale Honors College on the University of Mississippi campus; an entrance table in the FedEx House at LeBonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.; and the dining room table in the Southern Living Idea House in Taylor. Each of his handcrafted furniture pieces is one-of-a-kind, of course.
“Taylor isn’t like other towns,” Deloach said. “We have quiet weeks and busy weekends. It’s a happy town.”
“It’s a great place to be an artist,” Shultz said. “This town has a lot of inspiration. The artists are inspired by each other – everyone has their own style. There’s no competition, because everyone is doing their own thing.”
Learn more about Deloach, Schultz and the Taylor Arts Gallery at www.taylorarts.com or on Etsy at www.TaylorArts.etsy.com.

Beckwith Studio

Bill Beckwith in front of his Taylor studio.
Bill Beckwith in front of his Taylor studio.

To the left of Old Taylor Grocery is a studio filled with statues and lit by the sunlight flooding its store windows. William “Bill” Beckwith is a tall man with wiry arms and a firm, calloused handshake. He wears large circle glasses, complete with a kind face. Beckwith is a longtime Taylor resident.
“I came here in 1982,” he said. “I was a graduate looking for a place to settle. I came here because it’s peaceful.”
Beckwith works per commission now, but he’s most well known for a statue that currently stands, or rather sits, in front of Oxford’s City Hall.
“Oxford commissioned me to make it for Faulkner’s birthday,” he said. “There was a controversy about how I did the statue. There were some who wanted him be standing, and others who wanted him to remain seated.”
Beckwith said he wanted Faulkner sitting on the bench so others could sit with him. He laughed when he learned of people posing next to him, feeding him Ya-Ya’s Frozen Yogurt, talking to him, or reading with him. It’s exactly how he pictured the statue.
His wife owns Taylor’s Dry Goods, next door to his studio. The store is open a little after four or so when she returns from work in Oxford, Beckwith said. The Beckwiths live next door to the store.

Tin Pan Alley

Just down the road from Taylor’s town center is a cluster of vibrant townhouses, inspired by and named for France’s Plein Air artist movement in the 1800s. The movement emphasized the beauty of simplicity. Such a neighborhood reflects Taylor well. The porches are close together and the sidewalks weave the neighborhood into a tight-knit community.

Tin Pan Alley is located at One Square Lane in Taylor, Miss.
Tin Pan Alley is located at One Square Lane in Taylor, Miss.

Within the Plein Air neighborhood is Tin Pan Alley, a cozy shop owned by Alice Hammell and Obie Clark. She and her husband have been involved in arts for a good while.
“We spent about 30 years or so in art,” Hammell said. “We want to share art with everyone.”
Hammell was a nurse and ran a surgical unit. Her previous job influenced her chemist-like approach to her artwork: from oxidizing metallic ink to incorporating scavenged motherboards to hot-wax paintings. Experimentation is a part of her self-taught artistic journey.
“I have been in galleries across the country,” Hammell said. “The good thing about Taylor is that my husband and I can have our own place to show our work – galleries can cost a lot which affect the artwork prices.”
Hammell’s husband Clark is an artist too. In his promotional material, he wrote, “I have dealt with the problem of being non-verbal since childhood. Consequently, I have trained myself to communicate visually, teaching myself to ‘see’ more and more. Simply put, art has been my mode of communication.”
Clark rented a room from Bill Beckwith as a student at Ole Miss. He saw Taylor as an escape from the University’s bustle and later bought a house across the street from Beckwith’s studio. He married Hammell, a Birmingham native, and they’ve lived in Taylor for years making art, opening Tin Pan Alley, and often hosting town events.
“We don’t get a lot of traffic here until there’s a ball game in Oxford,” Hammell said. “People here are peaceful, keep to themselves, garden a bit – we work a lot more here than we would have if we held down a 9 to 5 job.”

Spears Sculpture

On Main Street in Taylor, Jared Spears, the sculptor, has on a white cap and a jovial smile.

Jared Spears at work.
Jared Spears at work.

He has lived in Taylor for 14 years, yet still gets Oxford mail. He reckons it’s due to the towns’ proximity.
“I think it was around 20 years or so when a professor at Delta State got me to try (sculpture), so I did and I realized, ‘hey I like this, I can do this,’” Spears said.
His studio is a small toolshed with a sunroof. Spears prefers to work from 6 a.m. until noon, when his studio flooded in sunlight. He always sketches his ideas before creating sculptures ranging from four to eight feet tall.
Several statues decorate his studio windows. Spears pointed to a miniature carved man on a pedestal: “My current project is making sculpture headstones,” he said. “That one is for a man who recently passed away – he was the same age as me, in his forties. I’m working closely with his family so I can portray who he was for his headstone.”
Spears believes that cemeteries should be more welcoming, with more sculptures celebrating the deceased’s lives and spirits.
Spears’ workload is by commission. Like all artists in Taylor, collectors have sought him out from across the nation. He enjoys working closely with customers, regardless of their creative views.
Spears recalls a certain sculpture he carved for a wedding: “I’ve never seen anything like it. They asked for a statue of a scene from a Midsummers’ Night Dream. The thing was four feet tall, weighed about 200 pounds. It’s this sculpture of a Pan-like creature, and he was there at the wedding.” Spears picked up a miniature statue of the wedding guest: a bare-chested man with goat legs.
Spears currently has several projects in the works. He is raising the funds to construct a statue for Levon Helm, a renowned Arkansas musician, and he is publishing a new website to feature his recent works this month.
So went another summer day in Taylor, Miss., as the artists worked, gardened, and prepared for the weekend business following a slow, peaceful week.
Photos and story by Callie Daniels, staff writer for HottyToddy.com. She can be reached via email at cadanie2@go.olemiss.edu.

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