The SpotLight

Story G. E. Light

Displayed throughout the month of August at the Cullis Wade Depot gallery on the Mississippi State campus, was Critz Campbell’s fascinating exhibition, “Facing South.” At first glance, especially in the online catalogue, the MSU associate professor and sculpture coordinator’s images appear to be Southern gothic paintings of both real and imagined structures in various earth tones with white and off-white backgrounds. At the opening reception, Campbell said these new works were inspired by various landscapes he saw at museums on a recent trip to Washington, D.C.

In the gallery, a surprise awaited: The “paintings” were actually arrangements of finely cut wood pieces (maple, oak and ash) assembled with a low-relief marquetry technique. Thus the artist is producing an interesting amalgamation of his training in traditional furniture design with a more two-dimensional representational style.

The exhibit consisted of two types of images: portions of two actual houses (one in North Carolina and one in West Point, Campbell’s hometown) and geometric objects (often in series). Perhaps the most interesting of these were the “Snakes in the Woodpile” images, which looked like nothing so much as a game of Jenga in various stages of completion. Both kinds of images often hinted at parts of a larger whole (be they the roofline of houses or potentially a blue window frame in the series “Andrew’s View,” which according to the artist, is a reference to Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Love in the Afternoon”) and suggested interesting considerations about the nature of perspective and how one interprets wider landscapes from a combination of memory and tangible visual information. Following the Depot viewing, the collection traveled to West Point, where it became the first exhibit on display at the newly opened Louise Campbell Center for the Arts (so named for the artist’s mother).

With the late Carole McReynolds Davis’ mannequin Dottie, decked in her flapper’s finest, overseeing events from a window seat, I attended Starkville Community Theatre’s 16th annual summer fundraiser, “UNexpected Song: Broadway Re-Revued,” at the Playhouse on Main. A collection of classics and lesser known songs from record-setting as well as obscure Broadway shows joined two longer medleys with just a whiff of a post-graduate Hasty Pudding theatrical in a number of cross-dressed, cross-gender presentations. The best of these was the first, John Brocato’s self-assured and knowingly narcissistic rendition of Emil DeBecque doing Nelly Forbush’s “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” from South Pacific. The stage had an elegantly minimalist design with a fetching grayscale color scheme, though the stairs as piano keys meme has been Busby Berkeleyed to death already. The second act opened brightly. One highlight was an all-female cast doing the opening number from “The Book of Mormon” replete in white shirt, black tie, black pants and nametags. Now that’s an UNexpected delight about a church not known for its gender equity.

An informal poll of attendees confirmed my assumption: There was something for almost every taste in the show, and attendees left with their hearts lightened. UNfortunately, the revue’s program, which failed to identify any of the songs performed, was seriously UNhelpful, and the evening’s sole slightly off-key note. The annual fundraiser features a champagne and dessert reception after each performance. The night I attended it was hosted by Abigail Voller and featured an especially delicious pistachio frosted cupcake as its centerpiece dessert.

Every Labor Day weekend, on the eve of the Prairie Arts Festival, the blues come alive in West Point at the annual Howlin’ Wolf Memorial Festival, this year under the auspices of the newly-formed Prairie Belt Blues Foundation. This festival is unique in Mississippi for being indoors and air-conditioned. After a long run at the Civic on the east side of town, the Howlin’ Wolf has latterly packed up and moved west to the gym at the former Mary Holmes College. This year, they also upgraded the refreshments with BBQ by award-winning pit master, Hank’s #1.

The Wolf Festival always features a nice mix of up-and-coming (usually local) artists with established national players (sometimes but not always affiliated with West Point native and festival honoree, Chester Arthur Burnett, aka The Wolf.) This year in-state blues artistry was represented by Mr. Sipp, The Mississippi Blues Child, and NE Hill Country artists Lightnin’ Malcolm and Stud.

Mr. Sipp won the 2014 International Blues Challenge in Memphis with a stage show part Chuck Berry duck walkin’ flamboyance and part James Cleveland grandiloquence, in keeping with his origin in the world of gospel.

On the headlining side were Austin, Texas native and triple-threat artist Carolyn Wonderland and New Orleans legend and original bassist of the Meters, George Porter Jr. with his Runnin’ Pardners. Porter closed the show out with a reworking of his classic Meters’ riff “The Cissy Strut” as a 16-bar blues. As usual, it was a good night to howl with the WOLF.