As a native of Mississippi, Laurin Stennis says she has always grown up influenced by the stories and music that conveyed serious truths by way of circuitous routes. And circles, those amazingly simple shapes, have a way of coming back around.
Stennis is a linoleum block relief artist. The Millsaps College religious studies graduate displays (and sometimes carves) her work in the lobby of Fondren Corner at Elizabeth Robinson’s Glass House. How she got here is one of those “roundabout,” happenstance meetings.
“I had known Elizabeth a long time ago and she heard I was moving back to Jackson,” Stennis recalls. “She had seen my work and reached out like an old friend and asked where my studio was. When I told her it was in a bunch of boxes, she said ‘I’m going to scoot some stuff over and you use the space until you get set up.’ That’s just one of a thousand hospitality stories that have happened here. That’s how Jackson rolls.”
Stennis didn’t pursue her art as a full-time passion until 2013.
“I kind of tripped and stumbled into linocut relief printing,” she says, noting her love of the craftsman style and other influences on her work. “After a little Makers Mark makes it way into my system, I like to think of my work as the love children of Walter Anderson and Flannery O’Connor.”
To practice lino block relief printing, Stennis draws (in reverse) on a piece of quarter-inch thick linseed and cork. Some use a press to then make the print, but not Stennis. “I like to hold it in my lap and turn it every which way as I carve,” she mimics. It’s a process she gets lost in. “I literally lose track of time. A detailed piece like that tortoise,” she says, pointing to images in her gallery space, “is four to five hours of detailed drawing.”
Most prints are limited edition, twenty-five at a time. Stennis sees it as twenty-five people contributing to the cost of her work. Each piece carries its own religious and political commentary, but the ultimate meaning is left for the beholder to decide. “Often people ask a story behind a particular piece,” she explains. “I don’t mind sharing it, but first I ask what they see. I don’t want to mess with that. Once I’m done, it’s yours. I can tell you my story but yours is just as interesting to me.”
Stennis has, in more recent years, become known for her new flag design for Mississippi, what she told the Washington Post is a “a blinking neon sign of negativity” aptly named the Stennis Flag. “If this is a gift that I can leave,” she said, “then I will sleep like a baby.”
Updated in 2020