My Yazoo City grandfather was democratic in the way he provided educational activities for his grandchildren. Field trips to museums in the vicinity were mandatory. On separate occasions while under his summer spell, the nine of us visited all manner of collections in and around the Mississippi Delta and Jackson. In those days, each tiny town seem to have an exhibit and he was keen to pass on his thirst for curation.
My mind reeled at the variety of items in mammoth glass cases both natural and handmade. Sometimes the curiosities were housed in the local library or in the back of a general store; a few times we pursued collections on the second level of musty public buildings but always, always we sought the top drawer in the front bedroom for his exclusive display of finds. These revelations were electrifying and we became larger in the pursuit of it all.
Since that time, I have visited my share of the grandiose, but my heart is still most full for the particular and the regional. Fortunately I am kindred with someone who loves nothing better than to mother and curate southern art. She always has my full attention. This stems from the fact that she is a proponent for truth and beauty, subjects plugged by my own family of origin.
Our first conversation was in The Grove at Ole Miss in the early 1970s, just about the time that the City of Oxford, Mississippi was deeding the Mary Buie Museum to the University of Mississippi. It’s a chat which I imagine she has forgotten, yet I held as discovery of a gal who was a whip-smart, deep-dweller devoted to natural settings and a leisurely lifestyle.
She always presents a penchant for new ideas, a challenging task in a buckle down environment. An array of art mediums has become the perfect frame for the life she has woven. Her obsession for the southern makers of translated pain and beauty have become her specialty.
And just like my grandfather, she is eager to champion the appreciation of those who might follow her lead. She has saddled up to that end with entrepreneurship, education, committee work and persuasive conversation. She holds sway with Mississippi textiles, sculpture, furniture, paintings and photography, making it all the work of adulthood.
If Dorothy Molpus Howorth and her husband architect Tom had lived in17th century France, their presence would have constituted a salon, roles that they have played in Oxford, Mississippi for decades, ever influencing the culture that zigzags in and around their lives. Both the famous and the everyday citizen are hosted in their harmonically designed home with good food, drink and conversation which more times than not embraces talk of the brilliant but still unknown talent creating just down the road. And this brings me to the way we connected during the recent past.
You will never speak to Dorothy for long without an enthusiastic wave of her arms and an introduction to current exhibits at the University of Mississippi Museum. She braids an ardent and insightful elevator speech in a hamlet without elevators.
Last fall, she invited me for a walking tour from the Graduate Oxford to the door of the one time Mary Buie Museum, now UM Museum, with a recommended membership to encourage more of “the stunning things we have been able to do.” The contents of the building time-traveled me back to the full emotion of a first encounter with my inventive and agricultural core. The experience cried: We are worthy of contemplation. Come in, be present. Consider inspirations beyond the vague routine of everyday.
The next fall, Dot followed up with an invitation to the eighth annual Harvest Supper, a fundraiser designed by The Friends of the University Museum. Held each year on the grounds of Rowan Oak, the scene of William Faulkner’s residence and creative muses, monies are raised to elevate beyond the University’s basic support.
And the grounds of Rowan Oak were just as I had left them on my last picnic there as a student. We loved nothing better than to kick back off a trail around the osage oranges and southern magnolias and trade “down the pike” stories.
I almost stopped breathing when faced with the giant eastern red cedar trees, a moniker I knew even as a university student and the daughter of a lumber wholesaler. The site that evening was laced with rustic tables and flowers, tunes from the University Steel Drum Band and Young Valley, A & N’s seasonal deliciousness, Elizabeth Heiskell’s delectable appetizers and desserts, and a small but dreamy silent auction.
The night was as charming as the purpose stout. As Collections Manager Melanie Antonelli says, “The Friends are a huge support, eager to be of help with programming, exhibits, conservation, catalogs, receptions and symposiums.”
For fun I considered that the introverted Faulkner might approve if he knew that the funds raised by The Friends would open up some minds. Further I imagined that he was more than acquainted with the artist and philanthropist Mary Buie and her sister, Kate Skipwith who oversaw the building of the museum almost a decade after he purchased Rowan Oak.
I like to think that they had a conversation or two somewhere around the courthouse square about the healing properties of art or maybe she commented to him with empathy on the southern human dilemma after she read The Sound and the Fury. Speculation to be sure, still today the UM Museum and Rowan Oak stand together to form pieces of a mighty museum complex which are explored each year by visitors from around the world.
Dorothy and my grandfather are birds of a feather; curious appreciators make beauty go round and round. Before Dorothy’s enthusiasm rang my bell, the memory of the Mary Buie Museum was nothing more than a visit to the dignified block on University Avenue where we were required, as sorority pledges, to check off a scavenger hunt item entitled, Dressed Fleas (still there for perusal).
Dorothy brought me back into the fold. Though she is just one of a multitude who works for an evolving collection of exquisite art from Mississippi and the American South, she is my portal and I’ve come to the time honored conclusion that perpetuation of your personal landscape is not a bad gig.
Thanks be to local yokels for time spent bringing in the sheaves. Now I’m a dedicated University of Mississippi Museum member. I’ll enjoy new artistic finds with my grandchildren picking up where my grandfather left off. After I’m gone, they will talk about visits to the UM Museum and the top drawer of my personally curated odds and ends.