written by Andi Agnew | Photographed by Frank Farmer
Sitting in Sneaky Beans surrounded by the colorful swirls of Clay Hardwick’s paintings on every wall, Samantha Ledbetter is telling me how she chooses art to display here. “A lot of times, people contact me. I’ll ask them to send me photos of their work. I hang out here a lot, so I think, ‘Do I want to look at this every day?'” Ledbetter approached Hardwick at the recent Priced to Move event, knowing that the prolific artist would have plenty of work to liven up the blank walls of the coffee shop.
Originally from Clinton, Ledbetter graduated from Millsaps College in 2012 with an art degree. Since graduating, she’s kept close to her Millsaps connections, recently curating an art auction in December for a nonprofit called Koox Boon (pronounced “Koh-sh Bone”), created by two of her college classmates that work for Millsaps and in the community around their 1,000 acre biocultural reserve in Yucatan.
“It means ‘Let’s paint,’ or ‘Let’s create.’ We promote the sale of local art here in Jackson and use the money raised from the auctions to facilitate mural painting, space beautification, art classes and camps in villages in the Yucatan,” she says. Ledbetter plans to visit Yucatan this summer and help paint murals with the organization in the village of Yachachen.
Ledbetter is currently taking some classes at Holmes Community College in preparation for dental school. When I ask her about the seemingly drastic change of career path, she explains, “I always wanted to be a scientist, but I was always an artist, and I just felt like this was a really good way to mix the two.”
When she isn’t studying or curating shows with other artists, you can find Ledbetter serving up drinks at Apothecary at Brent’s, where she has worked since 2013. And if she isn’t there, she is probably creating some art of her own.
“I’ve done Priced to Move (the brainchild of Fondrenite Ian Hanson) several times. I like to participate in Figment every year… I’ve done a (Figment) project the past two years. This year’s project was called ‘The News Knows,’ which was a collaboration with Kristen Lucas and Austin Richardson. Austin welded a double-helix structure and we made a poem out of newspaper articles that were translated into Morse code and then into DNA nucleotides… it was really complicated. Basically we just made a ‘Mad-Lib’ poem based on the way that nucleotides are connected.” Suddenly, the idea of Ledbetter becoming a scientist/artist makes complete sense.
Ledbetter describes her own art as “layered reactionary drawings.”
“I’ll make a mess and then fix it, and then make a mess and then fix it… they’re total abstractions with familiar botanical forms… kinda scribbly, really.” She works primarily in graphite and watercolor, using a paper called Yupo. “It’s a plastic paper, so all the water sits on it really well. You can use a lot of water. I just ended up liking the effects of that, and it also dries really quickly.”
Ledbetter lists Alice Meel, Walter Anderson and Julie Mehretu as influences. Ever the supporter and collaborator, she also gets a lot of inspiration from her peers around the state. “One of my favorite friends, Claire Whitehurst, lives in Oxford, and I feel like we bounce ideas back and forth and copy each other’s paintings a little bit. I always love her work, her colors are wonderful.”