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 Theora Hamblett  (1893 - 1977)

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Lived/Active: Mississippi      Known for: folk art, dreams and visions painting

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Ad Code: 3
Theora Hamblett
from Auction House Records.
Cotton Pickers
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Theora Hamblett (1895–1977) was inspired to paint by her dreams. She also painted cherished memories of her own and of people close to her—the old O’Tuckolofa School, children’s games, “trees along the highways,” making lye soap and sorghum, and carrying cotton to the gin.

Hamblett was born on a 200-acre farm near Paris, Mississippi, that had been owned by her father since before the American Civil War, and she understood farm chores and responsibilities from an early age.  She graduated from Lafayette County Agricultural High School, near Oxford, Mississippi, and attended Mississippi Normal College before teaching primary grades in small rural schools on and off for fifteen years.  Teaching was not satisfying to her, though; and a business she tried, raising chickens, was financially unsuccessful.  She moved to Oxford, where she bought a house and converted it into rental apartments.  A lingering yearning led her to fill the rooms with paintings.

Hamblett began to paint in 1950, enrolling in a nearby university; but her time there was short because the course focused on abstract art, which did not interest her.  Instead, she followed her own inclinations.  The first vision that she painted, Angel’s Request, showed an angel visiting as the artist was ironing.  Because people tended to interpret her “vision” paintings differently from what she intended, Hamblett wrote two small books, Theora Hamblett Paintings (1975) and Dreams and Visions (1975), in which she interpreted these works herself.  The artist claimed that once she committed herself to paint, specific images ceased to obsess her.

In composing a picture, Hamblett would first paint trees and then tackle the rest of the forms.  Her pared down minimalist style was abstract yet representational.  Patterned trees vibrate with tiny leaves, made all the more kinetic by being placed near fields of solid color.  Her mother had bought her a set of crayons when she was eight, but by the time she reached adulthood she preferred to paint with oils on canvas or Masonite, using a subtle palette.  The artist followed a rigorous schedule: she painted on “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday mornings, Thursday all day, and sometimes Friday,” but not on weekends.

Hamblett’s paintings—some 600 in all—were willed, along with her home, to the University of Mississippi in Oxford.  Her painting Golden Gate, renamed The Vision, was donated to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  She had one-person exhibitions at the University of Mississippi Art Center (Oxford, 1955), Brooks Memorial Art Gallery (Memphis, Tennessee, 1956), University ofNebraska (Omaha, 1969), and Mount Hood Community College(Gresham, Oregon, 1969).

Lee Kogan

Encyclopedia of American Folk Art

Information provided by Jim Hawkins, Fine Art Appraiser, who wrote: "Hamblett died in Oxford, MS where she had her home.  Oxford is the home of the University of Mississippi, the largest single repository of her art, including all her visionary art, which she refused to sell during her lifetime.  Her work is featured in the Delta Review, "Theora Hamblett", Volume 2, Number 5, Greenville MS, by Bet Wooten
p. 26-28, 49-53; illustrated.

Biography from Greg Thompson Fine Art:
Theora Hamblett was born in Paris, Mississippi in 1893.  From 1915-1930 she taught school in her hometown.  She moved to Oxford, Mississippi in 1930, where she ran a boarding house for students and worked as a seamstress until 1950.

Hamblett began painting in her 50's after taking a few art classes at the local university in 1950.  In 1954, New York art dealer Betty Parsons began successfully promoting her work.  Upon her death in 1977, she left all of her work to the University of Mississippi in Oxford, MS.

Her work remains in many notable museums throughout the country including: Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, MS; Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA; University of Mississippi Art Gallery, Oxford, MS; and Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel, MS.

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