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Top Stories of 2017: Finding Mr. Kinney in the Mississippi Delta

Mr. Kinney

While on a work-related trip to Cleveland, Miss. one day, I dined at the Starving Musician’s Bakery, stopped in at the bank and later saw a friend at the Direct TV/Security Store. In each of these locations, I noticed strangely beautiful paintings on the walls, all signed by a Mr. Kinney.
Something about the vivid colors, the technique and the uniqueness in these paintings struck a chord with me. I had to have one of my own. So, I made it my mission that weekend to find this Mr. Kinney.
It seemed that everybody knew him, but nobody knew where he lived or how to reach him.
The following day, I got an early start and was determined to find Mr. Kinney. I got a lead on his neighborhood, then his street and then his house. He was not home. A kind neighbor, Ruben Smith, offered to drive with me to visit his local haunts. Eventually, I was successful in finding Mr. Kinney. We were introduced. I gave him a down payment and just a few days later, he called me with a completed painting. It was a gleaming nighttime scene of Po’ Monkey’s Lounge. It was beautiful, and I needed to know more about this artist.
The following week, I arranged for another visit to sit and talk with Mr. Kinney at his home in Cleveland. This is what I learned.
Melvin Kinney grew up in Rosedale, Mississippi. He came from a family of 12 children, five other brothers and six sisters. He was drawing when he was in grade school. He described to me the day he was in the Oak Street Store in Pace, Mississippi, and noticed an older white woman sitting in the back, painting on an easel. He was drawn to her. When asked by the woman what he was doing, little Melvin replied, “I make pictures, too.”
That woman was Mrs. Dooley Miller, whose husband ran the store. Mrs. Dooley took a keen interest in young Melvin, buying him canvas to paint on and pushing him along with words of encouragement. “She was my inspiration,” Kinney said. “She put me on my way.”
It wasn’t long after that, he was selling paintings to locals, including TY Trice, the principal of his grade school in Rosedale.
After graduating high school, Melvin spent time living and working in Oakland, California, and later in Milwaukee, where he had a brisk business pin striping and painting on fast cars and tricked-out motorcycles. When his girlfriend got pregnant, they decided to move back to the Delta, closer to his family, seeking a safer environment to raise a child.
“I live a fantastic life,” Melvin said, relaxing in his makeshift living room/art studio in Cleveland. He is a people person and everyone in town seems to know him. Together, Melvin and I strolled downtown along Cotton Row. We went into Abraham’s Clothing Store, the Delta Meat Market, 10/24, The Bakery, Jane’s Frame Shop and other places. Each store we walked into, we received a warm reception followed by conversation and camaraderie. They all had Mr. Kinney’s original paintings proudly hung on their walls.
Melvin Kinney loves people, and he loves to paint. I felt fortunate to have shared part of my afternoon hanging out with Mr. Kinney. He is a great conversationalist, an entertainer and a very special and unique artist that only the Mississippi Delta could have produced.

By John Allison
For questions or comments, email hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

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