We’re speaking metaphorically here, but Tina Lutz is walking up a cliff and she’s about to jump off.
“I’ll either fly,” she said, “or someone will catch me.”
Lutz has tendered her resignation as executive director of the GumTree Museum of Art and the GumTree Festival.
“I’m not gone yet, not gone yet. End of July,” she said.
In August, the 51-year-old will go back to school to pursue a master’s degree of fine arts from the University of Mississippi.
After 16 years in charge of the museum, which was known as the Tupelo Artist Guild Gallery when she accepted the job, Lutz plans to step away from her administrative role to focus more on her artistic side.
“This is a huge opportunity, and I couldn’t pass it up,” she said. “It was a chance to get back into my studio.”
But that seemingly simple goal won’t be easy to accomplish. She’s lived in her Church Street house for about 13 years, which means 13 years of “eclectic accumulation.”
She’ll have to pack up her human skeleton and hundreds of books, as well as paint-filled tubs and tool boxes, three fishing buoys, an industrial strength easel, a drawing table that’s usually filled to overflowing and a seemingly infinite supply of fish-related art and paraphernalia. That’s not to mention the Duncan Baird painting, the Jere Allen painting or the Haitian sculpture created from a steel drum.
“When my son was 7 years old, one of his friends came in the house,” she said. “He stopped dead in his tracks. He looked around the room and said, ‘Wow, look at all that stuff.’ He’d never been in an artist’s house before.”
Come August, Lutz and her stuff will be found in a farmhouse in Hurricane Landing, just north of Oxford.
But she has some more work to do until then. She’s currently planning an exhibit of paintings by Holly Springs artist Kate Freeman Clark for the museum.
“It’s going to be bittersweet when I walk out for the last time,” she said.
Lutz said she treasures her decision 16 years ago to drive up from Laurel to show her work at the GumTree Festival. George Booth, who was chairman of the gallery’s board of directors at the time, introduced himself to her.
“I put my hand out. ‘I’m Tina “Fish” Lutz. Is your museum hiring?’” she recalled. “He said, ‘Yes, we are.’”
After putting together a resumampé and returning for an interview, she was in.
“I moved up here the third week in June in 1994, all because of the GumTree Festival. My children and I moved up here. They had just turned 4 and 6,” she said. “One year later, they named me festival director. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that would happen.”
During her tenure, the gallery became a museum, and its budget went from $48,000 a year to $215,000. The museum established a permanent collection, and Lutz has handled an untold number of priceless works of art.
“I’ve also been here long enough that I watched the little fellows grow up through the youth exhibits at the museum, then the high school exhibits, then they competed for the GumTree scholarship,” she said. “It’s been amazing to see the talent grow over the years.”
The careful reader might have noticed two things:
- Lutz’s “seemingly infinite supply of fish-related art and paraphernalia.”
- And her introduction to Booth: “I’m Tina ‘Fish’ Lutz.”
She’s made prints of fish for about 25 years, since she lived and worked in the Florida Keys.
“When I was in the Keys, ‘Tina Fish’ just worked,” she said. “It was good for marketing. Besides, I’m a Pisces. I don’t remember learning how to swim growing up. It seems like I’ve always been able to.”
You’ll still find fish prints in her work, and you can see a sampling of her pieces at thecarongallery.com.
When Lutz gets to Ole Miss, she’ll be studying print-making and mixed-media, two styles she already incorporates in her work, along with painting, drawing and collage. Now, she has the chance to focus on her passions.
“My art goes right to the edge without any breathing space,” she said. “I feel like that’s what my life has been, too.”
The museum’s board of directors has advertised for a replacement. Resumampés have been submitted and they’re under review, but no decision has been made.
“We’ve worked so hard to get where we are today,” Lutz said. “I do care about what happens. I hope the next person can take the museum to the next level and move things forward.”
Her immediate plans include packing up her belongings and moving them about an hour to the west. Beyond that, she has a three-year MFA program to complete.
After that, maybe she’ll find another metaphorical cliff to jump off.
“I don’t know. We’ll just see,” Lutz said. “I’m not sweating that yet.”
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal