Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Eudora Welty was a master of observing the characters afoot in her native Mississippi and beyond, giving them new life by way of short stories, documentary photography, and paintings. Though she became most known for her writing, Welty was truly a multi-disciplinary artist, and a new publication, The Eudora Welty Portrait Reader, seeks to honor Welty’s contributions by way of a multi-disciplinary art project.
Taking inspiration from Georgia-native Brooke Hatfield’s 2014 portrait zine featuring fellow Georgian Flannery O’Connor, Emily Wallace and I joined forces with Hatfield in 2015 to create a similar homage to Eudora Welty. The resulting publication, The Eudora Welty Portrait Reader, includes portraits by 20 artists from across the South and words inspired by those illustrations.
“For a lot of women who grew up in the South and liked words, Eudora Welty was an icon because she represented what was possible for them,” says Hatfield. “I first knew her as a writer, but when I discovered her photography I fell even deeper in love with her mind and her work.”
Artists had freedom to interpret Welty’s image from any era of her life and using any medium of their choosing. Virginia-based painter William Dunlap chose to sketch Welty’s likeness in charcoal in a piece titled “Beautiful Dreamer.” “Eudora is of indeterminate age here, and that is what art can do – it can render a subject timeless,” Dunlap says. Mandy O’Shea, who runs a floral design studio in Athens, Ga., paid tribute to Welty’s love of gardening with a floral arrangement portrait. Atlanta-native Natalie Minik crafted a three-dimensional mask of Welty using cardboard and acrylic.
In Jackson, Miss., artist Laurin Stennis created a linoleum block print of the writer, whose home-turned-museum is just doors down from her own on Pinehurst Street. “At night, I walk by Ms. Welty’s house, where the lamp at her desk stays lit, and I imagine her there – tapping away on her Royal typewriter – still capturing the compassion and grace of our world’s sights and sounds, troubles and triumphs,” says Stennis.
The portraits will be on view at Welty’s house in Jackson, Miss., Monday, June 29th, for a Preview Party hosted by the Eudora Welty Education and Visitors Center. The Reader will officially launch online the following day as a weekly feature in The Bitter Southerner. The Bitter Southerner will also host a release party on July 1st at The Goat Farm Arts Center in Atlanta, with many of the contributing artists and writers in attendance. The Reader will be on sale at these events and online, with all proceeds benefitting The Eudora Welty Foundation. All events are free and open to the public.