Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Patti Carr Black's Belhaven living room appears almost square, with built-in, wall-size bookshelves directly across from the front door. A quarter of the way down, surrounded by a portion of her collected books, hangs Walter Anderson's "Magic Carpet," opulent in color and design, breath-taking in its seven-foot width.
Talking with Black stirred my emotions as had the painting. Her career and life continue to revolve around all things Mississippi—from her days at the Old Capitol Museum to editing books on her home state and its artists, authors and history to her lengthy friendships with many Mississippians, like Anderson, his family and Eudora Welty. In the '90s, she added book publisher to the list.
"I had to do a lot of written research projects, answering inquiries, writing catalogs for exhibits at the Old Capitol, so I became acquainted with the printing process," Black told me. One of her two new books this fall, "Eudora Welty's World," comes from her own Edge Press.
"I can't believe that I get to publish books," Black said, going on candidly, "I would do it more if I were a better salesperson. It's fun to do it, but you have to have the capital to do it, so you have to sell to bookstores."
"Eudora Welty's World," an idea she had discussed with Welty to take her words about nature and complement them with just the right images, took Black about 15 years to complete.
"I deliberately sat down and read through all the works. She just has such a way of using words, with gorgeous, long descriptions of nature, like in 'Losing Battles' where they're out in the country. I looked for short, pithy descriptions that I could pluck out," Black said.
Black's deep-set eyes sparkled as she related how she and the book's watercolorist came to work together after she'd heard about Robin Whitfield's Grenada murals. Over the course of a year, Whitfield drove down to Jackson, bringing her mostly lap-sized works for Black to see. "I was always fascinated," Black said, pointing out particularly Whitfield's use of fireflies in one painting. She especially liked the artist's sense of integrity in her art—Whitfield paints outdoors, her studio often a kayak.
Comfortable in her roles as publisher and editor, Black nevertheless takes her hat off to those of the past. "I can't imagine how they did it before computers," the 71-year-old said.