The Scene: Artistic Visionary: Southern artist inducted into Walk of Fame
Southern artist inducted into Walk of Fame
Noted Memphis artist George Hunt, regarded as one of the most important artists in the South, drew on a wealth of experiences during his childhood in Hot Springs.
Hunt will be inducted into the Arkansas Walk of Fame with Nick McDonald, posthumously, a patrolman for the Dallas Police Department who arrested Lee Harvey Oswald shortly after the murder of President John F. Kennedy, and actresses Joey Lauren Adams and Tess Harper. The ceremony begins at 11 a.m. Oct. 18 at Five Star Dinner Theatre followed by their plaque unveilings at the Visitor Center at Hill Wheatley Plaza.
Hunt's art posters are collector's items at Memphis in May and the Hot Springs Blues Festival. An honorary member of the Spa City Blues Society, he has attended the local festival the past three years.
“I've found George Hunt to be a wonderful man. Always quick to smile and shake hands, to visit and tell a story. He enjoys attending the festival each year and meeting the people who come. He's very congenial and he makes time to speak to everyone who approaches him. He's just a
nice guy, one of the good people in this world,” says David Hughes, SCBS president.
Born on a sugar cane plantation near Lake Charles, La., Hunt was delivered by his great-grandmother Silla Beau who was considered to be a “hoodoo woman” (very different than voodoo) mostly African medicine, herbs and dietary cures, mixed in with good-luck charms, bad-luck spells, strength and virility.
“I was born with a caul over my face and my great-grandmother attached great interest to that fact. She knew I was going to be a `special child,'” Hunt said.
His grandmother recognized he had a special gift early in life for “seeing things.”
“I don't think it was any kind of supernatural powers, but I did see the world in a different way from other folks,” he said. He was eventually able to turn his gift of “seeing” into distinctive art. “The brain is a funny thing,” he said. “Later in life I did find myself having `visions' of some sort, but of a spiritual nature. Sort of like seeing what a painting would look like finished, before I even started.”
His family moved from the sugar cane plantation in Louisiana into southwest Arkansas when he was around 5 or 6 and worked on a cotton plantation.
“The one thing I remember so well about that was the hard work I saw taking place. The cane plantation was hard work and dangerous with the machetes and all, but the cotton fields seemed hotter, harder. Women expected to pick 200 pounds a day, men 300 or more.
“I remember my grandmother saying to me, pointing out to the field, `George, you have a choice. You can either work the fields like the rest of 'em or go to school and make something of yourself.' You better believe that I chose school, hands down. You see the cotton picking images regularly in my art.”
They moved to Hot Springs when he was 7, stronger, and out and about every day that he was not in school.
“The summer I turned 9, I was ready to make some money, so I put together a shoe shine kit and got a job with `Blind Bill' at the corner of Malvern Avenue and Grand Avenue. He had three shine chairs and small newsstand. I worked freelance shining shoes up the white end of the street and down the black areas. Then worked for Mr. Shelley who had a stand across the intersection from `Blind Bill' by a pawn shop,” Hunt said.
“I was constantly being chased out of the park by park rangers for shining shoes there. One night at 10 years old, I was working in front of the Hot Springs Supper Club on Central when a group of fancy dressed white men started hassling me to get out of there. I stood my ground and said I just wanted to shine some shoes. A man stepped forward and I, again, said I wanted to shine his shoes. He told the others to let me be and gave me a $20 bill. More money than I had ever seen before. The man was `Owney' Madden and from that day on, I could pretty much work anywhere I wanted without trouble. Except the park.”
Guests at the Arkansas Walk of Fame event will have an opportunity to meet Hunt after the ceremony.