The Mississippi Book Festival is coming up in a couple of weeks. There are several ancillary events associated with the literary lawn party, beginning with a kick-off party on Thursday, August 16 presented by Bookfriends of University Press of Mississippi at Fischer Galleries in Jackson. The event, which is open to the public, will feature the iconic works of Mississippi’s artists Glennray Tutor, Ke Francis and Noah Saterstrom.
I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Tutor and Francis, and I really admire their work.
Ke Francis is like the Pied Piper of artists. He had such a profound effect on his students at the University of Central Florida that several of them followed him to Tupelo when he moved back home in 2014. The group of talented young associate artists work at Hoopsnake Press, where their artistic interests parallel the mission of the press.
Born in Memphis, Ke moved with his parents to Tupelo when he was a baby. He grew up in Tupelo, graduating from Tupelo High before going to college at Mississippi State, Memphis State, the Memphis College of Art and finally the Cleveland Art Institute. “I started out in engineering at Mississippi State, but quickly decided that was not for me,” he laughed. But art was what got and kept Ke’s attention. “As a child, I had an uncle who painted as a hobby. “He was a businessman, and he always encouraged me, supplying me with paints until he saw me copying Picasso! He came up during the Depression, and he thought I needed to do something more stable.”
After graduating college in 1967, the Cleveland Art Institute offered Ke a position to teach. “I taught for two years, then they offered me a tenured position, but I decided not to take it.” He had started building on his grandfather’s farm in Tupelo in 1968. He founded Hoopsnake Press was founded in 1970. At that time the press facility consisted only of a Charles Brand etching press and technical facilities to print small scale etchings and woodcuts. The press operation slowly expanded to include typecasting equipment, large etching and relief printing presses, and two letterpresses to handle the design, illustration and printing of books. “From 1970 to 1996, I showed my art nationally and internationally, in galleries and museums,” he said.
In 1992, Ke received a Rockefeller Study Grant to go to the Bellagio Study Center in Italy. “They mis-scheduled me, so I spent the first two weeks I was there with a group of writers. One evening, we had to read what we had written that day and many of the writers there began suggesting publishers to me. I actually traveled and visited those who were doing beautiful work. One wanted me to illustrate books for Southern authors like Eudora Welty and Barry Hannah, and they wanted to work with me, but worried it might be too chancy.” A man Ke sold a sculpture to owned a letter press. After winning a print show, Ke used the money he won to buy the press. “I printed a short story book about a walking catfish, a story I’d heard all my life.” Throughout the mid-1990’s, he went to openings, read stories and sold books.
In 1996 the press moved to research space at the University of Central Florida, Orlando, where it established a collaborative publishing venture with Flying Horse Press, the fine art press established by the university art department. Ke was the director of this press, which came to be known as Flying Horse Editions, and Ke and his then-wife, Mary Francis, continued to publish under the Hoopsnake logo from 1996-2014. Ke, his daughter Kerry, and Mary agreed to revamp the Tupelo facilities and combine the presses and resources from both locations at the original Tupelo studio in 2014.
While at UCF, Ke was a professor in the School of Visual Arts and Design, and he served as chair of the art department. When he retired and moved back to Tupelo in 2014, ten of his students made the decision to move to Tupelo with him after graduation. “They were in my painting and print-making class at UCF,” Ke explained. “They came and helped me set up the studio. They helped run plumbing and I showed them how to plant a garden. They now eat what they harvest. That’s a new thing for them, as most of them grew up in large cities. They do a good bit to help me out, and in return, they use my equipment when they’re ready to print. We do shows together.”
Photorealism artist Glennray Tutor also appreciates the divine aspects of food. “There is something sacred about the food we eat,” he said. “I have vivid memories of being in my grandmother’s kitchen and watching her put up fruits and vegetables for the winter.” Tutor was fascinated by the colors and textures of the produce lined up in the canning jars, and the play of light as it reflected off the glass. His series of nostalgic paintings of Mason jars filled with brightly colored produce have been very popular, along with a series of hot sauce bottles. “I love the graphic design of the labels.”
Tutor lives and paints in Oxford, Mississippi and his work is acclaimed internationally. His paintings hang in museums, galleries, corporate offices and private homes. He began painting lifelike paintings in the 1980’s before he was familiar with the photorealism art movement. Inspired by the coloring books he collected as a child, the artist looks at everyday objects with a different eye, elevating the mundane to works of art. From a lone jar of pickles to a grouping of jars of assorted canned produce, Tutor captures the divine essence of the food in his paintings.
You can see works by both artists, as well as the work of Noah Satterstrom from 6pm to 8pm, Thursday, August 16 at Fischer Galleries, 736 South President Street in downtown Jackson.