The SpotLight

Story G. E. Light

Willie King was a dyed-in-the-wool, Black Prairie Bluesman for most of his 65 years, especially after he got a homemade diddly bow from his grandfather, as recounted in Big Joe Shelton’s “Little Willie.”

The Columbus Arts Council saw fit to honor Willie’s 2009 passing with the Blues for Willie Festival over a long weekend in March. On a Thursday evening at the Rosenzweig Arts Center, Joe Shelton and Bill Abel exhibited their art as well as their blues chops.

Abel studied painting and ceramics at Delta State, the former with a student of German-American artist Henry Hensche, who preached a focus on color and light. Abel studies local landscapes en plein air: wheat fields, pecan groves and barns. He also does ceramics based on a traditional Japanese Mingei style, though with some humorous results, like his single brown suede shoe.

Big Joe Shelton, a glass artist and professional recording artist, also dabbles in photography, which he then manipulates with Dreamscape, sometimes ending up with what looks like a reprint of an actual watercolor.

His photos feature various Black Prairie musicians, scenes from Willie’s Freedom Creek Festival and various jukes in the area.

Following Bill’s gallery talk, Joe and Bill — on harp and slide, respectively — performed some blues for an appreciative crowd.

Friday and Saturday saw a charity bike ride, free harmonica lessons and two nights of blues performances featuring local acts Big Joe Shelton and His Black Prairie Blues Ambassadors, The Bill Abel Band, The Old Memphis Kings, and from Jackson, The Nellie Mack Project.

Ben Jonson’s famous line from his dedicatory poem in Shakespeare’s First Folio was prescient in foreseeing the topic of a recent conference at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa put on by the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies, “Why isn’t Shakespeare Dead?”

An international collection of scholars gathered in Morgan Hall’s third floor library to ponder this question. Papers ran the gamut — from discussions of interpolating/interpreting the Bard in different genres (from Bollywood to post-modern opera) to a feminist reading of the eroticism in Romeo and Juliet’s various “found” sonnets to Early Modern English Drama as translated and performed in the Netherlands to Richard Burt “physically” consuming the text by “snorting” lines of Macbeth’s letters.

Two conference highlights: Susan Bennet’s “Sponsoring Shakespeare,” an interventional discussion and protest of BP’s underwriting of various Shakespeare 450 events in and around London, and Stephen Guy-Bray’s “Shakespeare Without Drama,” which examined the deployment of Shakespearean texts in post-modern poetry and specifically focused on Jen Bervin’s NETS, a redacted text of “The SONNETS of William Shakespeare.” The conference rounded out with a fantastic meal at the über trendy The Side by Side restaurant, a new venture of Birmingham’s Hot & Hot Fish Club’s Chris Hastings.

Over the 20 years I’ve lived in Starkville, The Starkville-MSU Symphony has evolved from a semi-serious amateur affair to a semi-professional unit. Much of that progress is due to retiring Maestro Michael Brown.

In addition to local citizen musicians, the symphony benefits from the full participation of a wide-ranging set of MSU music faculty and by courtesy instructors (Baker, Banks, Damm, Falcone, Human, Kirkland, Oppenheimer, Phillips, Rowan and Taylor). And it hasn’t hurt that he has recruited more than 25 “ringers” from Tupelo, Memphis, Birmingham and even farther afield.

The March 19 “Best of the B’s” concert opened with Johannes Brahms’ short “Academic Festival Orchestra, Op. 80” and closed with that warhorse, Ludvig van Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67.” It was a fitting swan song, even if Brown’s parting gift was a stencil-engraved brass cowbell, alas.

Every summer artist Susan Sharp Ford sets up shop in the annex of Starkville’s Sportsplex to lead a week-long Fine Arts Camp for eager elementary-aged kids. Campers paint, draw, hand-build with clay and learn a little art history.

This year’s theme was “Mississippi Artists and Their Media: Wyatt Waters (watercolor), George Ohr (pottery of an owl), Walter Anderson (block prints), Marie Hull (still life of hydrangeas), and William Dunlap (landscape of birch trees).”

I visited one Tuesday afternoon on Walter Anderson day, when 16 kids worked on scratch pads with X-Acto knives to mimic the waves and shells from Anderson’s famous shell block print, trying to achieve “as much motion as possible.” They then practiced block printing by inking Styrofoam skylines and imprinting them on top of their Waters-inspired water colors from Monday, as both a skyline and its watery reflection.

While the nation is fascinated by Washington, D.C.’s live bald eagle cam, local enthusiasts have their own version out at the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge — a nesting pair and at least two eaglets. In fact, there’s an entire subculture of folks who regularly head out Oktoc Road, camera in hand, to photograph the feathered family. The resulting photos are often posted to the Friends of Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge page on Facebook.

Rob Snell, who visits the Refuge regularly, says, “It’s the closest remote place that has so many different kinds of wildlife and scenery. I shoot a wide variety of cameras, but my favorite is a little Nikon P900 point and shoot, because of the super telephoto lens.”

Another ardent fan and photographer of the eagles is Vicki Maples, who started taking pictures at the Refuge after a photography class.

“I kept hearing people talk about the eagles’ nest,” says Maples. “I didn’t know where it was, but I wanted to find it. Seeing the eagles on the nest makes my day every time I see them. I can sit there for hours and trust me, I have.”

To see the eagles live and in person, pack a lunch and set your GPS to 33°16’11.0”N 88°47’46.2”W.