Governor honors Miss. artists

By Sherry Lucas/The Clarion-Ledger

JACKSON — When it comes to artists and honors in Mississippi, nobody rests on his laurels.

Blues legend David “Honeyboy” Edwards, 95, accepted a governor’s arts award for lifetime achievement Thursday by acknowledging that train’s still rolling.

“I’ve been all around the world playing the blues, and I’m still trying,” said Edwards.

The 2010 Governor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts at Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church in Jackson celebrated the arts in every capacity — for its role in education and economic development as well as cultural heritage and beauty.

“The arts must continue to be part of our priority,” Gov. Haley Barbour said, noting its economic value, jobs creation, role in tourism and the way it brings recognition to Mississippians’ special talents.

“That is so important — that people have a chance to do what they love to do and then be recognized for the greatness of that,” Barbour said. “It makes us a better people, a better state and this a better world.”

This year’s recipients of the state’s highest arts honors also included arts educator Lenagene Waldrup of Drew, folk artist and basket craftswoman Bessie Johnson of West Point, Mississippi Public Radio’s Grassroots show and Clinton watercolor artist Wyatt Waters.

Waldrup, receiving an arts in community award, researched arts as a unique way to reach economically and socially disadvantaged rural children. Waldrup echoed the words of Eudora Welty from a 1974 governor’s arts conference, “When we are asked what kind of art would be for everybody, there can only be one answer: the best.” That became her battle cry, Waldrup said.

Johnson, the daughter of two craftspeople who learned traditional pine needle basketry at her father’s side, received a Mississippi heritage award. She calls the art form “a remarkable blessing” with links to her African ancestry as well as natural individual expression. A longtime member of the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi, she’s also spread the craft through workshops.

Grassroots host Bill Ellison said, “This recognition today is like going all the way to Rocky Top.” The popular radio show of traditional Mississippi and American folk, acoustic and bluegrass music has been a Saturday night staple for 25 years, 18 of them with Ellison at the helm. Original host Mike Morgan was also in attendance.

Waters, honored for artistic excellence, recalled the first paintbrush he held, handed to him by his mother who was painting and spattering the floor for a faux linoleum look. “She gave me the brush and let me spatter, and I was in love,” he said.

He recalled early days and cycles of working to save money and quitting to paint. When he’d paint on the street, some passers-by would think he was homeless and put money into his box.

“Nowadays people have recollections of me trying to sell paintings for 25 bucks and comment, ‘I wish I had bought some of those paintings.’ My reply is always the same, ‘Me, too.’ ”

Honeyboy Edwards’ award came on top of Grammy Awards — including a recent one for lifetime achievement — Blues Foundation awards and a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship.

Edwards, who grew up playing the blues around his native Shaw, told the audience he was 12 or 13 when neighbors from across the field asked his dad to let him play the blues at a Saturday night country dance. Then they plied the youngster with whiskey to keep him awake and playing through the night.

“I don’t know how many companies I recorded for,” he said, “but I’m still out there trying to do it.”