A Sense of Space

A timeworn storage building takes on a new form when a West Point artist comes home

Story Jan Swoope | Photographs Matt Garner

Photographed by Matt Garner.

Photographed by Matt Garner.

For Critz Campbell, it was about coming home. After years away, gaining his degree and later teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, studying in Portugal, North Carolina and England, and gaining national acclaim for his experimental furniture design, the West Point native felt Mississippi calling him back.

Upon his return to Clay County in 2004, Campbell began his search for a suitable studio. Anyone else passing the old storage shed by an abandoned rail spur near the Kitty Dill Memorial Parkway would see only a nondescript relic of the 1920s. Campbell saw a future.

Photographed by Matt Garner.

Photographed by Matt Garner.

“It’s almost like grain silos and old industrial buildings — there’s a beauty that comes out in just the raw function,” he explained of his attachment to the corrugated tin structure he chose. “I love that everything about it was built for function; because of that, it has a sturdy beauty.”

The more time Campbell spent around the find, the more intensely he felt its pull.

“I realized how much I loved this space and thought I could make it into an interesting place to live,” said the designer, who captured attention in 2001 with his Eudora chairs, which were exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution. He has since earned copious press in the design world and been featured in numerous prestigious shows. He currently is an associate professor of sculpture at Mississippi State University.

When acquired, the metal building was overflowing with stored plumbing supplies. Its distant past as an oil distribution hub was clearly stamped on its floors, where heavy drums once rolled straight off of rail cars. Campbell himself removed the decades of grime and fuel to reveal the original oak planking.

He chose an open floor plan and filled it with vintage furniture and artwork — his own and others’ — that pleased the eye and spirit. An arresting self-portrait by Rebecca Blazak, a former art student, visually dominates the 1,200-square-foot space.

Photographed by Matt Garner.

Photographed by Matt Garner.

“It was in a student exhibit at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and when it came down I discovered I really missed it,” said Campbell.

The pensive face is mounted on a rolling divider he built to separate living and sleeping areas.

His appreciation for form and function is reflected throughout: in a collection of oil cans and funnels started in the 1990s, in the classic molded Eames chairs around the dining table, and in the many examples of the artist’s distinctive furniture, wood sculptures and framed creations.

“I think I’ve grown into understanding how thoughtful space can be,” the designer shared, gazing around the unique dwelling he someday hopes to convert to a studio, after building a larger contemporary living space on the property.

As for his body of work, he hopes it reflects something slightly melancholy, perhaps mysterious and somehow intrinsically Southern.

“I was finally finding some success, and it wasn’t enough,” said Campbell, who admits 9/11 made him question whether pursuit of commercial renown was worth being so far from family. “You start focusing on what you want in a deeper sense. I think deep down I decided that if I’m going to make good work, it’s going to come from Mississippi. This is sort of my muse. This is home.”