My clock ticks on the ‘ole 100 year old antique desktop of a former Mississippi State University president’s desk. I am in our downstairs art studio. I hear the ticking at 12:15 a.m. on Nov. 29. The soft cold rain drops are pattering against the east window sill where I glance out into the darkness of the sky. I just keep pecking on the keyboard of my computer. The ticking and the pecking are the only sounds I can hear right now. I have had enough sleep since I went to bed early, and this is my time to paint, write and create within my own bubble world. I wanted to share with you a glimpse of my own life. Our inside homes are our palaces. Our outside homes are our worlds, too. We are a part of our private worlds, and when we open the door or our homes we become a part of the outside world.
I was invited to write a column for the Starkville Daily News about my paintings I have painted. My first column was on Jan. 31, 2010, called “The Purple Iris.” This became a joyful gfit that I could now share with each of you. I had an opportunity to share my artistic work as well as write about each painting. You suddenly became my viewer and reader. So many of you responded by stopping me on the sidewalks of my outside world with smiles and hugs. I received sweet notes of encouragement with “Miss Carole, I know exactly the person you painted and wrote about this past Sunday,” or “I know exactly where Morgan Chapel/Church School is just off Oswalt Road tucked in the deep woods just off the Sturgis/Maben Road,” or “Did you realize that all my people went to both school during the week and church on Sundays here in this 100-year-old building?” or “Did you know that it was your granddaddy, John Andrew McReynolds I, who taught my folks?” I was shown so much love and appreciation. I have painted people, places and everything else from The Philippine Islands in the years of 1980-1981when we had the opportunity to spend six months of our lives there. We went around the world in a circle going and coming two different routes. Dr. Frank Marvin Davis Sr., my husband now of 48 years, was sent on loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Los Banos, The Philippines, where the University of The Philippines lies an hour from Manila. He was sent there to the Ford/Rockefellow Institute at the International Rice Research Institute to establish an insect rearing laboratory to conduct research on rice.
I had the opportunity to paint and ship back home 37 huge paintings of the islands and the world as we circled it. I later alone went to San Salvador, the Bahamas, with the MSU Geology Department and to Scotland and Ireland with the MSU Art Department. I created artistic impressions of all of these countries.
I became a courtroom artist in the Oktibbeha County court for two murder trials. My work became the visible account of what was happening inside the courtroom for THE Starkville Daily News as well as WCBI and WTVA. I was allowed inside with all my art supplies resting in my lap so that I would only take up one seat for my courtroom art studio. These original pencil and pastel drawings are in my collection. I sat and drew for over eight days and into the nights the murder trail of Jerome “Fly” Manning, a Starkville citizen who murdered two MSU students, Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller.
Two white oak trees with plaques underneath each are memorials given by the city, county, and the university and are planted on the MSU campus on the edge of our Drill Field near the row of engineering buildings to honor these MSU students. This trial had its own effect on me, and I decided to approach all three boards to ask that they might honor these students with a simple tree. They agreed. Father Michael O’Brien, priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, dedicated these two trees during a recess of the trial. Fly Manning received the death verdict and serves now on Death Row. I during this experience realized the great division that was happening between our black and white citizens.
It was during this experience that I decided on the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration that I would become a real part of the newly formed Chamber of Commerce race relations team, and I joined in this committee and painted a six foot portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. It was placed on the Oktibbeha County courtroom grounds where it remained for two weeks and was later moved to Dr. Douglas Conner Jr’s medical office till spring. It was then placed in Odd Fellow’s cemetery. It was painted on a piece of masonite, and plexiglass was placed over it for protection. It remained at Odd Fellow’s until one of the backlashes of a hurricane damaged it some. However, the painting was saved. This was the first time I marched in the MLK holiday march down the Main Street of Starkville.
I was joined by friends such as William (Brother) Rogers and John and Jeanne Marszalek. For seven years I unveiled a different painting each January, and our daughter, Elizabeth Davis Williams, then in high school, marched with me. Recently Elizabeth and her husband Stephen’s daughter, Mallory Ann, marched with me. Three generations of women born here helped make a positive difference in race reconciliation in our city, county and university.
The other murder trial I sketched as a court room artist was the trial of the 13-year old-Tyler Edmonds, who was given life in prison for supposedly helping murder his brother-in-law along with his sister, who was given the death sentence. This murder occurred in Oktibbeha County in Longview. Tyler Edmonds served six years, but the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled for him, and he is now out of prison. His sister’s sentence was reduced recently to life rather than death. After sitting in the court room of our courthouse, I realized that both trials had a sad effect on me. I decided to never sketch a murder trial again but to instead do happier subjects. I would not take anything for learning how our judicial system works, and we do have the greatest courtrooms in the world. I discovered that courts are worlds of their own. I treasure these sketches.
As I think back on my wonderful life I realize that I have really been five people. I am a daughter and a sister, (I have a sibling, John Andrew “Johnny” McReynolds III). Our parents were John Andrew McReynolds II and Elizabeth Janette Lewis McReynolds. I am a wife to Dr. Frank Marvin Davis Sr., who is also known around town as “Saint Frank” for putting up with me and also “Mr. McReynolds.”
We will celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary on March 21. I am a mother, called Carole, Mama, and Mom to Little Frank Jr. 44, of Saltillo, McReynolds, 37, of Kingwood, Texas, and Elizabeth, 32, of Starkville. Each of my now grown children call me different names. The special icing on the cake is that I am a grandmother to four granddaughters and two grandsons. I am a daughter, sister, wife, mother and grandmother. I have had the best of life, and I am grateful.
I have been sketching and painting inside my home studios both upstairs and downstairs. When our weather is perfect, I go outside to sketch and paint. I love being outside because I can mix into the paint and on the brushes all the sounds, smells and noises I hear as I create. I go into my bubble world, blocking out all the distractions of the outside and concentrating on what I am doing. Sometimes I think about my own heritage and the eight generations who have lived, walked, contributed and breathed our Mississippi air and smelled our Magnolia flowers. My folks have been right here in Starkville all these years and generations. We were in Mississippi when this was just a territory. Our people of Mississippi are our greatest asset.
Let’s go outside the 100-year-old back door with its three window panes that are the blown wavy glass and hear the back screen door slam with that certain screen door slam found only in Mississippi. We are going to head down to Lafayette Street underneath the hill from Main Street of Starkville. Our destination will be heading to what used to be our old Starkville Bus Station. It was a lovely old oval shaped brick building. It was torn down to be our new Starkville Electric Company.
I had seen several of the same black gentlemen playing checkers every day. They were always happy as they laughed, talked and gossiped about what was going on around town. They would be absolutely perfect subjects as well as a local scene filled with local color. Let’s pull up with all of my art supplies. “Good morning, may I join y’all today?” I said. “I will be sketching you first and then painting your portraits today.”
They looked at me with smiles and graciously agreed. I hit the jackpot. I would get to be a fly, an artist on the bus station wall within a gentleman’s world for the next few hours. They all accepted me with great hospitality. I was excited and honored. I had the opportunity to capture on my blank canvas the smells, sounds and life of my beloved Starkvillians who were simply enjoying a pleasant day underneath the hill.
As I unpacked my supplies and popped up my colorful umbrella, I suddenly thought to myself, “Now, Carole, you don’t have tall and lofty mountains to paint or huge roaring oceans to capture on your canvas, but you have your hometown and its beautiful, wonderful people to seal within your pencil marks paint on canvas to capture this moment forever. This is where you were born, your people for generations, and for goodness sake, do your best job possible today.” I bowed my head to ask God to help me.
We live in the greatest country on this earth. We have the opportunity to live in Mississippi, a state filled with vibrant and radiant colors. We are filled with so many red, yellow, black, white, and polka--dotted citizens and visitors to our Mississippi who are all precious in His sight. You know the song, “Jesus Loves Me.” We live in “The Bible Belt”. As a faithful Presbyterian I loved and sang this familiar song. Let’s each never forget to believe and practice the words that we hum, and then we shall have a much better Mississippi one day.
I completed this painting and titled it “Checker Players”. You helped me as my invisible friends that day, too. I signed my name on the bottom of the canvas, put my brush down and leaned over to give each of the checker players a hug and a “thank you.” We got back into the car to head home. As we rode away I thought about how to me as an artist each painting that I have created is priceless. I was allowed for that one moment into another human’s life.
The faces are the portraits, the places are the landscapes and the everything else are the still lifes. I have had the honor of sharing with you my stories of when, where and and how I created each piece of my work. Most people can hunt around in their pockets for four quarters for a Sunday Starkville Daily News out of the bright yellow metal boxes around town. My paintings and my stories as a Starkville Daily News contributing columnist is my gift to each one of you.
One time I was on a street corner of Starkville painting, and a car pulled up right beside me. They said, “We wanted to meet a real bag lady. Are you one?” Then I said, “Come on, now, these are just my art supplies, and I am a simple artist outside painting. Do you want to stay awhile and watch me paint? I do live in a real old home that my own great-granddaddy, Wiley Bartley Pearson, built that dates back to 1911 ago, which is on the National Historic Homes of America. Her name is “She’s a grand old lady/The Pearson Place.” You must drive by and wave and honk at Miss Dottie, a “woman-nequin” and Miss Mollie Golly, a little girl “woman-nequin” who is standing close by, and I promise you that they both will wave back. Dottie and Mollie Golly are the real characters, and I am merely just a starving artist standing and painting on the Starkville streets.”
I want to say that it has been my honor and pleasure, and I shall continue to let my fingers dance across these computer keys to communicate with you about my paintings. I alone as this artist can be the only one who can repaint and relive the creation of my own life’s work as I keep on keeping on with my sketching and painting. I have over 1,000 paintings and hats. If you know me, I am “The Lover Of Hats” in town, too. The paintings and hats are stuck in nooks, crannies and closets all over this old family home.
Well, we made it back home again. We had a wonderful time painting today down underneath the hill, didn’t we? We just slammed the back screen door and heard its great Mississippi slam. It has such a homey sound, too. Look up by the white wooden back door and see the tiny white stretched canvas hanging right there by this door. The meaningful words are written in my favorite color in all the world, red. We know we are just about inside our home again. We have been outside creating a painting all day. It is good always to come home again. Let’s carefully and almost prayerfully read them together.
Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It is about learning to dance in the rain.
I love each one of you. Live this one day to its fullest one second, minute and hour at a time. When times get tough, hard, lonesome or sad promise that you will not wait until the storm passes, but you will get up, brush yourself off, begin to smile and learn to dance in the rain.
I’ve just shared with you a glimpse of my life both inside and outside.
Carole McReynolds Davis is a local artist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org .