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Taking a nap at the barber shop

July 16, 2011

Thirty-three years ago on September 20, 1977, I headed to Starkville’s McGinnis Style and Barber Shop across the street from the Starkville Public Library. I had all of my art supplies packed snugly in my car to spend the entire early autumn morning and into the afternoon to sketch and paint a most delightful gentleman. His name was Mr. Ollie Buford, and he worked at this shop. You might say he worked with Mr. McGinnis and not for him. They were truly best friends. There is today still a barber shop in operation on the corner of University Drive and North Montgomery, and this small shopping center has just been beautifully refurbished since then.
I had passed by for weeks and seen Mr. Ollie snoozing there in his favorite spot taking a break to get off his feet and rest a bit. The early morning sunshine felt so great on his face and entire body. Don’t you wish you were right there with him now? What is a snooze? It is a short sleep, a nap, and a doze. A catnap is only a brief sleep in a chair. Mr. Ollie’s chair was a brick ledge on the side of the shop. His chair was right in front of a small dirt space. Behind the ledge with a turnip green patch sprouting up for those delicious autumn turnip greens fixed with a hot skillet of cornbread just waiting for the hot melting butter to be dripping out and down of the cornbread with a big ‘ole glass of cold buttermilk to wash those turnip greens down.
I slipped in and ask Mr. McGinnis if I could borrow Mr. Ollie for a few hours on this very sunny most delightful morning. He graciously agreed, and I was in luck. I am not quite sure what Mr. Ollie did in the shop, but he could have shined shoes and swept the floor of the all the hair that fell as Mr. McGinnis told his stories of all the gossip he had heard from his customers to the next customer or two until the next piece of good gossip was told to pass on to customer after customer. One can find out everything going on around this city and university from the barber shop. “You know, I just heard down at McGinnis’s this and that.” I do know that Ollie was McGinnis’ right hand man, and he was all around the shop with a friendly “Goodbye. Y’all come on back soon now” as the customer walked out with a neat haircut and shiny shoes. It was a stylish place to go for sure. I remember that Mr. McGinnis was an easygoing handsome gentleman with a gentle personality and beautiful white hair, dressed always with his white barber coat on, and you might say that if you got your hair done here, you were dressed to the nines. Ollie Buford was the extra special gentleman who was wonderful to get to know and love, too. He had his own stories to tell, and they were funny and wonderful, too.
Ollie Buford would become one of my favorite portraits I have ever sketched and then painted. He sat up straight and looked right into my eyes as I began this painting. Suddenly the warm sunshine began to make him very sleepy, and suddenly, he dropped his neck down and fell fast asleep. I wanted to paint him in his relaxed position. I knew immediately that I had found a treasure of a subject. It is very rare to find a person who does not want to pose for his portrait, but fell into his portrait with the simple snoozing catnap. Every now and then he would wake up, and I would quickly say, “Keep on doozing, Mr. Ollie. Sleep on.” Several times I heard a slight snore or two.
What a fine model I had. He was in his own world, and he was willing to stay in this one position for the next few hours. I did worry about his bent down neck for hours would ache and hurt him later, and he said over and over again, “Miss Carole, don’t worry about me, I am just fine.” I kept on sketching and then painting on my 17X22” stretched canvas of 100% cotton. Frank, my sweet husband of 47 years, and I had used my big canvas stretcher and stapled it to its wooden frame. I really appreciate Frank’s help. When my brush begins to paint, there is a certain drum-like sound that hits the canvas and gives rhythm to a painting as your paint. Suddenly an artist hears music as she paints.
Ollie was a tall, thin, really large gentleman, and he fit perfectly almost in the middle of the canvas. Let’s together now enjoy this particular painting as I repaint it for you artistically and visually. Visualize and go back with me thirty-three years ago when Starkville and Mississippi State University were both smaller and younger. That morning is captured within pencil marks and brush strokes forever. Time stands still in a painting. That day, the whole world passed both Ollie and me by, but I caught this relaxed moment forever.
We can barely see his facial features. He is wearing heavy black rimmed glasses, and he has a head full of black maybe graying hair. Is there a mustache underneath his nose, and above his top lip? Is this just a top lip? I loved his warm white graying old cap. The back of his neck is catching the sun rays of the now warm sunshine for the morning. His light blue work shirt and the dark blue apron have a nice contrast. His neat tan slacks give him a dressed-up look for this day. One of my favorite parts of this entire painting are his two hands. Look how casually and relaxed his one hand falls into his lap at his waist and top of his legs. See his other hand with two visible fingers and nails. There is merely a hint of a third finger, and we don’t see a nail on this one. This hand is resting on the brick ledge. The shadows are falling across his face, shirt, hands, apron, and the top and side of his cap. Look at the dark shadow behind his shoulder and back.
I used a maroon color, mixed with light purple, navy, gray, and black as the background to indicate a dark gray/maroon brick of the building itself. We realize that this is a brick barber shop. The entire small shopping center is almost a black brick at least it was dark charcoal gray.
Now look at the red, white, and blue barber pole. It is going round, round, and round as it moves. Find the lettering that we can read and see. This barber pole was the only real movement in the painting since my subject was fast asleep. The top and bottom were shiny metal and rounded parts of this barber pole. See and find all the reflections that both the round parts caught within the shiny metal. The life of Starkville, its trees and the street. Could the little red building which looks almost like a house, or is it a building across the street? Could it be part of the Starkville Public Library? Who knows? It is always so much fun to leave a tiny bit of mystery to each painting and let the viewer make his or her own decision. The cars are whizzing by, and the street corner is busy and alive. There is a red light right by the barber shop. I wondered how all the traffic, bikers on University Drive, and walkers on the sidewalks that day did not disturb Ollie Buford’s catnapping on the corner. He was peaceful, quiet, and undisturbed. He was indeed in his own dream world as the busy world circled all around him.
I hope when you look at the painting you feel sleepy, and you too are beginning to nod off in a deep catnap. All of us should learn to relax from our busy world we live in today. Forget the worries. Just sit for a spell and let everything go, fall asleep, dream a pleasant and colorful dream, then wake up, because you know that all those “have to do” things are still waiting for you to tackle with energy, a wink, and a smile. Try this. You’ll love it.
I am sure that Mr. Ollie Buford down at McGinnis’s Style and Barber Shop made it into Heaven, and I do hope that his neck was not too sore the next day from posing for me so that his portrait could be painted. I caught his very natural moment in this painting. To Mr. Ollie wherever you are I want to say thank you with a hug and love from my heart for allowing me to share a tiny part of your life that day 33 years ago as you took a snoozy catnap.

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