Lafayette creatives feted by arts institute

county_lafayette_greenBy Errol Castens

Daily Journal

JACKSON – Lafayette County dominated Saturday when the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters feted its 2014 honorees.

William N. “Bill” Beckwith, a Taylor sculptor perhaps best known for his bronze statues of famous Mississippians, was given the Noel Polk Lifetime Achievement Award.

Beckwith, who teaches sculpture and design part-time at the University of Mississippi, has produced bronzes for four decades. He is widely known for his portrait busts and public monuments of such icons as William Faulkner, Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Tennessee Williams, Richard Wright, Eudora Welty, Jefferson Davis, L.Q.C. Lamar, Jim Henson and Coach Margaret Wade.

Originally from Greenville, Beckwith was one of the earliest artists who gave rise to the arts-colony culture of the Village of Taylor, which won the “Governor’s Award of Excellence in the Arts” in 2001. Beckwith earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Fine Arts from Ole Miss and holds a multitude of awards.

His work has been exhibited in Splashlight Studios and Frank Marino Gallery, New York, New York; Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson; Louisiana World Fair, New Orleans, Louisiana; and the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Museum, Washington, D.C. One of his many permanent installations depicts the flagbearer of the doomed 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment at Gettysburg National Military Park.

Beckwith currently teaches part-time at the University of Mississippi Art Department.

“My fascination with the figure, particularly with the head, grows each day,” he said.

Milly West of Oxford won the award in Photography for her collection, “Cuba for Keeps.”

The Center for the Study of Southern Culture was given the Special Achievement Award for its 24-volume project, “The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture.” CSSC Director Ted Ownby, Director Emeritus Charles Reagan Wilson, Associate Director Emerita Ann Abadie and Associate Director Jimmy Thomas were present for the award presentation.

Two former John and Renee Grisham Writers-in-Residence at Ole Miss now living elsewhere were also among the MIAL honorees. Jesmyn Ward, who will join the faculty at Tulane University this fall, was presented the Nonfiction Award for “Men We Reaped: A Memoir,” while Steve Yarbrough, professor of writing, literature and publishing at Emerson College, won in the fiction category for his novel, “The Realm of Last Chances.”

Thomas said the Lafayette/Oxford/University community is “doing something right. We’re attracting really talented people to come study here and live here and work here, and we nurture those artistic proclivities. Even the people who have moved on from here to other places would be hard pressed to deny Oxford’s influence on them.”

errol.castens@journalinc.com