Britt | Photo: The Pink Rooster Gallery

by Jerrod Partridge

In the summer of 1963, Sammy Britt didn’t know that he was about to embark on a life-changing experience.  He was a delta boy going to school at the Memphis Academy of the Arts and headed up to Provincetown, Massachusetts to study painting with a man named Henry Hensche.  It was there at the Cape Cod School of Art that Britt first heard about painting in “light keys”.  Light keys could be compared to music keys.  Just as a piece of music may be written in a certain key, the painter can look for the specific key that describes the season, weather, and time of day.  It is with color and through direct observation that the painter can capture these light keys.

“Henry created a completely new language,” Britt says.  “He taught a new way of seeing and painting that was in contrast to the traditional tonal methods.”  Britt passionately describes this new language as a progressive step beyond Monet and the Impressionists.  “Henry Hensche spent his life believing in developing this language of light and color.”

It became his life passion as well.  Britt taught the art of seeing light through color for over 30 years at Delta State University, influencing countless young artists along the way.  Now we get to see a glimmer of his influence in the new exhibition “Mississippi Colorists” at The Cedars in Fondren through the month of May.  Included in the show will be work by Britt as well as Richard Kelso, Susan Russell, Bob Pennebaker and several other students and peers painting in their own version and understanding of light keys.

This exhibition will be a wonderful companion to the show “Old Masters to Monet: Three Centuries of French Painting from the Wadsworth Atheneum” currently hanging at the Mississippi Museum of Art which covers Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Century painting.  “Mississippi Colorists” will show paintings from the Twentieth and Twenty-First Century that were directly influenced by the work of some of the artists at the museum.

The reception for “Mississippi Colorists” will be on May 2 from 5-8pm at the Cedars, and is free and open to the public.  Hours of operation for the Cedars are Tuesday – Friday, 10:00 am-4:00 pm. May’s show is a part of The Four Seasons of The Cedars Performing and Visual Arts Series.

Jerrod Partridge is an artist and art instructor living and working in the Fondren neighborhood of Jackson.  His work can be seen at