It makes people take notice, she says. A tall woman standing on a stool in a remote spot in the Mississippi Delta in front of a historical marker along the Mississippi Blues Trail. Law enforcement officers and neighborhood children tend to stop and ask what she is doing, or simply observe. She is tracing the surface of a blues marker as part of her work to create art for all markers in the Mississippi Delta. B.B. King’s Birthplace, W. C. Handy and Ike Turner are among the more recognized markers present in the mixed media works.
Sandra Murchison, a Millsaps College art professor and Fondren resident, is well qualified to trace the history of the blues. She has spent the last several years making rubbings of markers along the Mississippi Blues Trail and incorporating those impressions in her two- and three-dimensional, mixed media works of art. Her work has led her to visit a variety of places such as Willie “Po’ Monkey” Seaberry’s old juke-house in Boliver County and Dockery Plantation near Cleveland, which is widely regarded as the place where Delta blues music began.
But she questions – and asks other to do the same – the Trail itself. She says, “I am curious about how the state of Mississippi aims to construct a past and identity rooted in music. At the same time, I seek to raise questions about the effectiveness of these markers. Is the trail too little, too late, or exactly what has been needed for some time? All of these visual comparisons raise the question: is a sense of place in Mississippi being projected or preserved? I encourage you to come to your own conclusions as I show you my work.”
Murchison continues to work on her own series of artworks in the Delta, but she’s also in the process of opening an exciting new book and paper arts center, Purple Word, in Midtown. The center, in affiliation with Midtown Partners, Inc. and Millsaps College, will exhibit works and teach workshops on printmaking, book and paper arts, while providing studio space for member artists to make their own work. Students, emerging and professional artists alike will work alongside one another as they examine and create printed book and paper arts.
The center recognizes an inherit relationship between traditional craftsmanship and contemporary dialogue. An emphasis is placed on striving for a thoughtful bond between the form of the object and the content of the work. As the center seeks to serve as a model organization locally, it also aims to associate with other such centers of printed ephemera nationally. This center for book & paper arts will feature facilities for etching, monotype and relief printmaking and a bindery for hand-bound book and paper arts. Murchison plans to open her doors to the public this fall.
Murchison and husband Julian, also a Millsaps professor, and their twin toddlers love being able to walk, bike and run around Fondren with its wide streets and constant activity of like-minded pedestrians. “We pretty regularly stroll our boys through Fondren After 5, and I much appreciate the annual support from the local business owners who open their doors to my Millsaps College students for their art exhibitions during Fondren Unwrapped,“ she says.
Murchison also praises the new crop of businesses, specifically the watering holes, that are cropping up. “Who doesn’t love the new Apothecary at Brent’s Drugs and the notion of a new craft beer bar with tabletop shuffleboard (Fondren Public)?”
Murchison joined the Millsaps College faculty in 1999 after completing her master’s of fine arts at Louisiana State University and her bachelor’s of fine arts at Alfred University. As a professor, Murchison is highly lauded for ability to create, teach and inspire. She is the 2013 recipient of Millsaps’ Distinguished Professor Award and most recently, the Exemplary Teacher Award from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) of the United Methodist Church.
Murchison will have a solo exhibition of her most recent work from the Delta series at Guy Lymon Fine Arts on Magazine Street in New Orleans this October.
With additional reporting from Millsaps College