The Scene: Artis­tic Vi­sion­ary: South­ern artist in­ducted into Walk of Fame

South­ern artist in­ducted into Walk of Fame

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Front Page - Story by Ali­son B. Har­bour

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.


On op­po­site page: “Dancin The Blues Away,” 1997, acrylic and col­lage on can­vas, copy­right George Hunt, was painted as the im­age for a 26-by-40 foot mu­ral on the out­side of the Blues & Leg­ends Hall of Fame Mu­seum which fea­tured 26 of Hunt's por­traits. At t

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