Starting Over


Slowly, slowly, the Mississippi Gulf Coast is coming back to life after Katrina's devastation. A year later, the artists of the Coast have banded together, getting to know each other, supporting one another, going around the country doing shows together.

On Thursday, Sept. 21, the Cedars hosted "MAC and Andy at the Cedars," a reception for 21 of the leading Gulf Coast artists who received this year's special Andy Warhol Foundation Grants, given to artists who lost their possessions in Hurricane Katrina. The total grant amount of $150,000 was distributed among the artists, with individual grants ranging from $500 to $7,500.

"It's got to be one of the strangest years I've ever experienced," said Clive Pates, a painter exhibiting at the Cedars. "It's been very disorienting. … When we go away, go somewhere else, we're kind of amazed that things are normal," he told me. "Getting a grant like (the Andy Warhol)—everyone's been knocked down so much … it gives us confidence again; boosts our morale."

"The artists there, they're very determined," said Virginia Rood, who displayed paintings and ceramics. She is also Clive Pates' wife. "In order to really make a living, we have to be able to sell what we do, and there isn't a market (on the Coast). … Nobody's buying art right now, people are trying to get furniture."

"The biggest thing we have going for us is probably the Mississippi Arts Commission. … I've worked with a lot of arts commissions, and I've never worked with a commission that was as good as the Mississippi Arts Commission. They're very responsive," she continued.

Virginia Pates is also exhibiting at Gallery 119 in Fondren. In her arms was one of Clive and Virginia's finest creations, baby Guilietta, 9 months old, who slept peacefully despite the noisy crowd. Guilietta (pronounced Julietta) is, Clive told me, a "Katrina" baby. It makes sense that nothing much bothers her.

When you got away from the casinos, the life of the Gulf Coast once revolved around the arts. In communities like Bay St. Louis and Waveland, a lot of that life was forced to relocate.

"The house was four miles inland, and we still had three feet of water. … We had just moved there from New Orleans," Heidi Mills said. "We were really lucky, in a sense. We didn't have the roof blown off, or the house completely flattened. … Anything that was above three feet we got to save; but unfortunately, my art books, my supplies, my paintings that were stacked up. …" Her voice just drifted off.

She and her husband now live in Hattiesburg because her husband has roots there. They're fixing their Coast home, but she seemed hesitant when I asked if they would ever move back.

Carole Marie Stuart, whose studio in Ocean Springs was destroyed by seven feet of water, told me that she started painting again after the first shock went away. "It was hard," she said. "I spent three days going through my stuff, salvaging what I could. … I had to start over again."

Stuart's two paintings in the show, "Madame Despair" and "Jubilee," illustrate devastation and the healing process. "(Jubilee) is a celebration of rebirth and life returning, hopefully, towards normalcy … one day at a time, one step at a time. ... We celebrate every time someone gets a step ahead, because we know eventually we'll be there too. We're looking forward to that day."

So are we all.


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