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Mississippi Artists to Paint Faulkner’s Mule Farm

By Erin Garrett

University of Mississippi

Greenfield Farm provides a fitting environment for plein air painting. In May, University of Mississippi art professor Philip Jackson took his class to the site for a day of painting. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Nine artists from across Mississippi will soon converge on what was once William Faulkner’s mule farm to depict the landscape in a “plein air” painting competition.

The Sept. 17 event will be held at Greenfield Farm, a 20-acre parcel of land east of Oxford previously owned by the famous author. The University of Mississippi, which owns the property, plans to convert it into a one-of-a-kind writer’s residency that will attract writers from Mississippi and those who make Mississippi their subject.

Besides fundraising for the project, the painting competition will include a public reception at 4 p.m. During the reception, visitors can watch the competitors complete their pieces, enjoy refreshments from Tarasque Cucina and potentially purchase paintings created that day.

“Greenfield Farm is so beautiful,” said Brooke Alexander, organizer of the event and instructional assistant professor of art. “It’s overgrown, and you can just feel the history in the land and all the stories that have come through the space. 

“Obviously, the land is going to change once the writer’s residency begins, so we wanted to somehow document it before changes start to happen – to showcase the beauty that the land has claimed on these ruins.”

The artists will be given free rein to use their medium and canvas size of choice. Of the finished pieces, one will be selected for a $1,000 grand prize and will become part of the farm’s permanent collection. Other works will be available for purchase.

Alexander said the scope of competing artists demonstrates “a very small portion of what Mississippi artists bring to the table.”

“Mississippi has such a wide range of artists,” she said. “The writer’s residency will welcome a diverse group of people, so we are trying to get that sense already at the start of this project. We hope to introduce these artists to people in Oxford and get them interested in their work.”

Competing at the event are:

  • Benny Melton, who earned his Master of Fine Arts at Ole Miss and was raised in Yazoo City
  • Charlie Buckley, an Oxford painter whose work has been recognized by the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters
  • Thomas Coon, a visual fine artist, specializing in equine and canine portraiture who teaches at the university
  • Brenden Davis, a Jackson native who works in graphic arts and animation, among traditional mediums
  • Sarah Frances Hardy, an Oxford-based author, illustrator of children’s books and painter
  • Sabrina Howard, a graduate of the Atlanta College of Art who lives in Jackson and works as a graphic designer and painter
  • Hannah McCormick, a UM graduate who paints and teaches in Water Valley
  • Jared Spears, a Taylor-based painter, sculptor, designer and musician
  • Vondrel Warren, a Clarksdale native who works as a firefighter and artist

Coon said he is honored to be selected as part of the juried group.

“I went out to look at the space, and it’s really jungle-like,” said Coon, an adjunct instructor in art and art history at the university. “I look forward to being able to portray how it looks now versus how it’s going to look. 

“I want to capture the essence of the time when Faulkner owned the mule farm. I’m an equine and canine portrait artist, so the mule aspect is symbolic for me.”

Frank Estrada, local artist and printmaker, looks forward to judging the event.

“I saw the roster of artists, and I’m excited to see the variety of talent that is going to be there,” said Estrada, a multimedia specialist at the School of Business Administration. “As a printmaker who mainly works in black-and-white, I personally will be looking at the color palette that each artist uses.”

Stacey Rathert, instructional assistant professor of art, also will serve as a judge for the competition. She said she is excited to watch artists depict the landscape and environment in their own distinct way.

“Generally speaking, they all have the same materials, same amount of time and the same location to create,” Rathert said. “But I expect that their work will vary a great deal as they work in their own voice. 

“I will be looking for that diversity and uniqueness to come through, as well as pieces that really capture the spirit of the location. The site will never be the exact same as it was in the moments that the artists are at work, not just as the site vegetation and structures change to welcome the residency program, but also the light, the atmosphere and the feelings that the space evokes in that moment.”

The third judge is Jay Watson, Howry Professor of Faulkner Studies. 

“My main goal is to help get people out to Greenfield Farm,” Watson said. “I want people affiliated with the university and people from the community to know it’s there and it’s a cultural treasure.”

The planned retreat-style residency will attract writers, including novelists, poets, songwriters, playwrights, essayists and nonfiction writers. The program will afford 50-plus writers a year the time and space to execute their projects.

The university’s commitment to the project is evidenced by a wide range of participation in the competition, said John T. Edge, director of the Mississippi Lab, which will manage Greenfield Farm Writers Residency.

“This is a great illustration of the way that members of the various colleges at our university work together,” Edge said. “With this event, we have the Mississippi Lab in collaboration with the English department, the business school and art department. All see the possibilities of this place.

“I hope it’s a demonstration of more collaboration to come.”

For those interested in attending the reception, Greenfield Farm is about 13 miles northeast of Oxford off Highway 30. Turn left on County Road 249, travel approximately one mile, cross a bridge and look for signs to your left. Coordinates are 34.449730, -89.309403.

For more information or for assistance related to a disability, contact Edge at johnt@olemiss.edu.

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