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Finding serendipity in Black-Eyed Susan Heaven

July 9, 2011

It was early in the morning on June 16, 1975, and I was riding along humming a song driving down the Sturgis/Maben country road to a very extraordinary and special hay field covered with happy brightly colored black-eyed Susan flowers. Their black centers look just like eyes. I just knew that I was in for a marvelous serendipity day ahead of me, and I was so excited.
I suddenly felt deep down in my bones a feeling of unexpected discoveries that might be waiting for me quite by accident. I was thinking that I was in luck or it was predestined that this was going to truly be a fabulous day ahead. Who knows? My car kept on tooling along, and I glanced up at the blue sky without a cloud rain or wind in sight. It was peaceful and delightful outside this day. In fact it seemed so serene and calm as if the whole world was untroubled and unperturbed. It was light and pure outside these car windows. Something inside my heart said softly, “This is definitely going to be an expressive day ahead and it will be high quality of every moment this one day.
I suddenly had a feeling of serenity. The sunshine hitting my face through the front car windows was calm with its brightness; there was a quiet radiance about it. This early beginning of this day was also calm, unruffled, and cheerful. I had just passed Margie Fulgham’s old corner grocery and filling station, and within yards from her place of business up the road going toward Maben on the same side there was an entire field literally covered with black-eyed susans. They were lavish and absolutely beautiful. Here was a ordinary hay field which looked more like an ocean of yellow flowers with black eyes. I knew that I had made it to heaven filled with overflowing colors of bright, medium, light yellow, and all colors of greens mixed in with other wildflowers of blue and dark purple. I had left my watch at home on purpose so that I could not check the time. I had a whole day to get completely lost in my world of sketching and painting. I was leaving the world of being busy back home for the next few hours, escaping to be creative under my umbrella with all my art supplies at my fingertips. I had arrived in heaven.
Today, I could let my hair down and be myself, and I could finally be what they call a prolific artist as I would be producing an abundance of work today. At least I would be adding another finished painting to my growing collection of work. As I unpacked my car I thought, “How will I handle this field of beauty?” I had tucked away in the back seat a yellow straw hat. I have quite a love affair with hats, and I rarely leave the house without a hat on my head and an extra hat in my hand. I am known around town as “The Hat Lady.” In fact I heard a voice greeting me just yesterday afternoon, and the gentleman said, “Hey, Miss Hat Lady, how ya doing today?” I have used a hat in many of my paintings, and this yellow straw one just had to be a part of the scene in front of me. This wonderful yellow picture hat just had to give an extra life to my painting to let the viewer know that deep within the field of such beauty of millions of black-eyed-susans was enjoyed and shared by another human being. I thought, this hat can be nestled and hidden deep within the black-eyed-Susan’s world almost lost to the visibility to the observer, but as the creative artist I knew exactly where it would be tucked inside the flowers and grass as if it too had just grown there. Not seeing the hat adds mystery to this painting. The viewer wonders “Who was she? What did she look like? Did she just drop the hat by accident? Did she live close by? Was she too overcome with such beauty that she just forgot to pick it up?” As you read my story now, use your own imagination and creativity, and wonder with me why in the world did I use a hat in this painting. See, you too, “ my reader” can now be caught up in the very creation of this particular story I am writing right now. Share with me not only the painting, but the writing, too. The yellow hat has a broad brim. This hat is worn by southern belles, ladies who almost reek with personality. Can you not just imagine what the owner of this particular straw hat must be like? It had a bright yellow bow around the center of the crown in the back part of the hat. The hat would be placed almost in the middle and the center of the canvas. This picture hat was almost the main character of this painting. The hat becomes a she as your eyes drink it in by carefully looking from left to right as you read the painting. The ribbon in the back is almost lost, but look closely and find it. See how beautifully it is tied. The ribbon in the front of the hat became darker, and it is almost a dark gray/maroon turning to black, which matched the black center of each of the flowers. The darkest shadow seems to cast its own shadow, which actually holds the hat to the ground. See the beautiful dark black/brown shadow which indicates the dirt in the field. If this darkest shadow of all were not here, the hat would just be floating on the ground itself. I needed to give stability and a feeling of belonging to the hat. With millions of lovely flowers at their peak of blooming that day, I truly wanted to let the world know that their beauty was shared with another human being. At least one artist had with her whole heart been there and walked through this path of heaven on earth. In my own way, I had walked the walk and talked the talk in a most unlikely place an ordinary hay field on an almost desolate country road in Mississippi, my own native state for eight generations of ancestors before me and when this land was merely a territory, and not even named as a state. Do you love our colorful, beautiful, wonderful state? We all should because it is home! I believe and I know that our state’s greatest asset is our sincere and genuine hospitality. We are all proud to be Americans. I, along with my family circled the world in 1980-1981 from The Philippine Islands to all over Europe, and we know visually and within our hearts we are the greatest. We celebrate and cherish most of all our freedom. We thank a God above for Mississippi and America. Maybe that day when I painted the beauty before me, this one yellow straw hat represented to me my own freedom. Look now at the hat itself, and you, too should be proud to be an American.
Take a look and find over black-eyed susan flowers. Count them. They are in a way saying to you, “Welcome to our little world out here on the Sturgis-Maben Road way out here in the country sides of Oktibbeha County. Glad ‘y’all came out here to see us.” This is a field and a world of amazement. Yellow is a happy color and it gives each one of us a bright future and hope to carry on with anything that is bothering us. Yellow wipes away worry, and we no long have to fret about the small things in our everyday living.
Look with me at all the various shades of green. Find the darkest greens which is almost black, apple green, white green, and even a purple green. There are tiny light purple wildflowers which are almost hidden among the dark green, but they are still sprouting up. There are five maroon and dark purple clusters of wildflowers which stand straight up . Look at the top of the canvas at the dainty light blue wildflowers. How sweet they looked that day. The twisting and turning shapes of all the grass keeps movement in this scene right in front of us. The light grays are soothing to this scene. The hint of a light blue sky gives us the sensation of a typical Mississippi June day. The light blue also cools down the yellows. My hat again is covered up with grass and flowers, but as an artist, I know exactly where the lost hat is. Ed Martin did not photograph this hat with a few pencil marks when he found me at the beginning of the painting. I wonder now if even Ed did not see my main subject that I was creating as I sketched and decided how I would handle the millions of flowers and my hat too. I too am standing almost up to my knee caps in flowers and grass. My body and art supplies were hiding the hat. I am almost lost, too, but I am right there in the field of yellow.
Mr. Edward Curtis Martin is a dear friend, a world authority and a well known horticulture professor. He is a fellow in the Horticulturist Society of the United States Of America. This is the highest honor a person can ever receive in his field of science. He and his wife, Roberta, who was a Presbyterian minister now are retired, and they live in North Carolina. They are the parents of two grown sons Curtis and Andrew. Andrew and his wife, Corey, are Starkvillians. They are the parents of three young chidlren. Ed found me as I had just put my first pencil mark sketch on my canvas, and he had his camera along with him that day. He is quite a photographer too, and he took this treasured photo. Let’s look at it together. See the tall large pine trees mixed in with the hardwood trees in the distant background. It is hilly on this road, and I had just passed Bevill’s Hill down the road coming to this spot. This hill is supposed to be the highest spot in Oktibbeha County.
See, my fold-up easel is in its perfect place along with my canvas. The brightly colored umbrella matches my long-sleeved shirt of many colors. I have to be stylish out painting in my orange smock, white blue jeans with pockets, and my big wicker basket with tubes of paints resting by me on the large wooden table. See the tiny table to hold other needed art supplies. See the colorful handwoven basket nearby with supplies that I will need as I begin to paint this scene. Finally, my big straw hat to keep the sunshine and sun rays off of me. Sometimes the sun rays will reflect from the white canvas right into my face. I am desperately trying to keep hot sun away from my skin.
Ed did not photograph the yellow straw hat, but I promise it is there hidden within the flowers. Suddenly a young boy appeared at my back. He was so quiet with his walking movements toward me that I did not hear his footsteps right behind me. “Hello,” he said. “I am Marjie Fulgham’s grandson, Greg Fulgham, and we are all so happy to see you out here painting the old hay field today. Grandmama said to say hi to you, too.” The entire Fulgham family made me feel like family, and I appreciated their warm, Southern hospitality. This is their land, and they graciously shared it with me that day. I was a complete stranger, and suddenly I was a nearby neighbor from Starkville. I grew to become a friend, too. I loved them all, and still love each one of them today. I met so many of the Fulgham family and others from this part of the county that day, and I returned over and over again to paint in their world. It is a world filled with good ‘ole native Mississippians. They indeed have hearts of gold.
Oh, what a day. I signed my name, dated the painting, and used Greg’s name by saying at the bottom of my canvas, “Greg Fulgham’s Hay Field.” He smiled and seemed tickled to death that I had written his name on the bottom of my canvas. I ask myself, “Where have all those years gone?” I think back knowing that our son, McReynolds must have been only 1 year old, and my sweet husband kept him for me all day long. I appreciate Frank’s babysitting for me to allow me to go out and paint that day. I rediscovered who I really was in my own world of creating another painting to keep and share for years to come. Think, 36 years later I am sharing it for the very first time with you. It is my pleasure to do this right now. I discovered a lavish, extravagant, productive spot in an ordinary field of plain dark brown dirt with wildflowers growing at their peak of beauty, and I have been to a beautiful black-eyed Susan heaven.

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