One summer day in the early 2000s, Mississippi artist Tony Davenport stood on Congress Street in downtown Jackson preparing to show off his artwork for the first outdoor festival at which he had ever exhibited. Suddenly, a strong wind kicked up and sent Davenport’s easels, paints and other supplies tumbling down the street, ruining several works in the process.
With nothing to do but pick up the damaged canvases and easels and put them back into his car, the Vicksburg native looked around and noted that his were the only items of all the gathered artists that had been knocked over in the wind. Embarrassed by his bad experience, Davenport nevertheless resolved to learn from the moment and set about finding out what the other gathered artists had done to prepare for the elements that he had not.
“I learned that day that the other artists had anchored their canvases in anticipation of strong winds, as well as setting up wind-repelling walls around their tents that they could also display art on,” Davenport says. “That way, they could present their work and protect it at the same time. I look back and see that experience as on-the-job training for how to present at an art festival, and as something that inspired me to do better and present better as an artist.”
Davenport, now a well-known and seasoned artist, will put his experiences to use as one of 50 crafters and artisans taking part in the upcoming Mississippi Makers Fest at the Two Mississippi Museums in downtown Jackson on May 7. Davenport plans to conduct a live-painting show during the festival to show visitors how he plans and creates his art firsthand.
Mississippi Makers Fest is an all-day festival centered around the Entergy Plaza at the Two Mississippi Museums from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, May 7. Admission is free, and guests can engage with Mississippi artisans, live music, make-and-take activities, food trucks and more.
The galleries at the Two Mississippi Museums, which includes the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, will have all their galleries open for free throughout the day, including an all-new exhibit debuting as part of the festival titled “The World of Marty Stuart.”
Creating the Festival
Robert Benson, deputy director at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, gathered a group of MDAH leaders together at the William F. Winter Archives & History Building in January to solve a problem. He and other members of the organization had long wanted to address the dearth of local activities since the COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted so many operations and events in Jackson and beyond.
The Jubilee! Jam music festival and many other events that celebrated the capital city had been on hold for years. With signs of normalcy beginning to return, MDAH and the Two Mississippi Museums wanted to find a way to celebrate Mississippi and all the crafters and artists the pandemic had hit hard.
“We all sat together talking informally at first, just passing ideas around, when a discussion came up about what we wanted to do with the outdoor plaza we have at the Two Museums in particular,” Museum Division Director Cindy Gardner says. “We had wanted to do something big as far back as 2020, and the excitement for it had died down somewhat since then, and we needed to do something to spark it.”
“I told them that a big part of the Two Museums being part of a living, breathing community was for us to use what was outside just as much as everything inside, to do something big to show people just what our plaza could be used for and make it a place for activity and community engagement in the future,” she adds.
Gardner and Blount, together with Department Director Katie Blount and Tori Rice, event manager for the Two Mississippi Museums in Jackson, decided that organizing a new festival celebrating the state’s creative residents would be the best way to welcome back people longing for something to celebrate after such a long period of disruption.
“We have such a rich and diverse group of artists and creators in Mississippi, but just like the rest of the world so many things have been on hold for us,” Rice says. “Even now we’re still playing catch-up here, but I feel like we’re finally ready to reach out to all the people who want to get back out there and see other people again.”
“That day we all decided the best way to do that was to bring our makers together and give them a stage to showcase their talents, whether it was through food, art or music, and that was how we created the inaugural Mississippi Makers Fest,” she adds.
A Collection of Talent
Roughly 50 vendors from across Mississippi will participate in Mississippi Makers Fest, offering everything from paintings, pottery, and jewelry to clothing and handmade soaps. All participating artisans are Mississippi natives that MDAH chose through a juried selection process, Rice says.
Makers will have tents set up all along Mississippi Street during the event, which will also include a “mini makers” area for children featuring balloon artists, face painting, and crafts stations relating to Mississippi’s art and music history. Additionally, children may create and take home their own pins based on Mississippi native author Eudora Welty and sequin art based on the Marty Stuart exhibit.
In addition to Tony Davenport, participating makers include Blue Dog Avenue, a Jackson-based online shop that specializes in purses and clutches crafted from cork leather; Skysetter Mobiles, a Natchez-based store that sells handmade hanging mobile sculptures; Bread & Batter Baked Goods, a cottage-food bakery based in Pearl; Ganna’s Candles, a Pelahatchie shop that sells handmade natural soy wax candles; Gulf Coast Grainz, a Biloxi furniture crafting shop that exclusively uses kiln-dried wood slabs; and Mendoza Wood Works, a Flowood woodworking shop that makes charcuterie boards, cutting boards and more.
The plaza between the Two Mississippi Museums will contain the main stage where Mississippi musicians will perform live throughout the day. Entertainers include North Mississippi Allstars, Mr. Sipp, Framing the Red, Chapel Hart, Chad Wesley Band, 5th Child, Action, Jimbo Mathus, Cary Hudson and the Jackson Revival Center Choir.
Throughout the event, guests can also help create a new community mural on the Two Mississippi Museums’ grounds.
“Anyone can come in and add something to the mural,” Rice says. “We want it to serve as a way for people to come together and leave something behind that will remain even after the festival is over. We’re lucky to have so many talented artists right in our own backyard here in Mississippi, and I hope that anyone who comes to this festival will be able to come away with an appreciation for all the talent our state has to offer.”
‘The World of Marty Stuart’
Mississippi Makers Fest coincides with the opening of the Museum of Mississippi History’s newest exhibit, “The World of Marty Stuart,” which will run from May 7 through Dec. 31, 2022. The Philadelphia, Miss., native partnered with MDAH to donate more than 20,000 objects relating to Mississippi’s music history that he has collected over the course of his career, which stretches back to 1968. The exhibit will also focus on giants of the country-music scene that Stuart knew or from whom he drew inspiration, such as Johnny Cash, Lester Flatt, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers and more.
“Stuart is keen on preserving artifacts of music history and is also involved in the Country Music Trail, working to get markers placed here in Mississippi,” exhibit curator Shane Keil says. “Over the years he’s saved so many items and pieces of paraphernalia, and he’s wanted to share them with us for years. We first talked with him about this exhibit as far back as February of 2020, but COVID delayed it as it did so many things. Now we finally have everything to tell his story.”
The exhibit will follow Stuart’s background and career beginning with his early life and influences in Neshoba County, followed by his time touring with Lester Flatt in Nashville and his mentorship with Johnny Cash. It then details his rise to solo stardom throughout the ’80s and ’90s, ending with his return to Mississippi and his work to preserve musical history in his hometown.
Items on display at the exhibit include Stuart’s first guitar, letters and personal items from Johnny Cash like his first black performance suit; original handwritten Hank Williams manuscripts; costumes from Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton; guitars belonging to artists such as Merle Haggard and Pops Staples; and even items as small as Stuart’s first paycheck and phone bills from his tenure as a touring artist with Lester Flatt.
“MDAH is heavily involved in preserving history in Mississippi, so we have a great deal in common with Stuart,” Keil says. “We want people to be able to appreciate his significance both as a Mississippi native artist and a preservationist. Stuart is someone who strongly represents the creative culture that thrives here in Mississippi, and he is working hard to improve his hometown and his state through his contributions.”
The Mississippi Makers Fest main entrance will be on the corner of Mississippi Street and Jefferson Street, with parking available at the Mississippi Fairgrounds. The parking entrance will be at Gate 3 at the corner of Jefferson Street and the access road by Pearl Street. Shuttle service will be available from the Fairgrounds parking lot to the entrance gate.
For more information, call 601-576-6850 or visit msmakersfest.mdah.ms.gov.