Friday, June 29, 2012

Paradise Lost -- Karl Wolfe, Mississippi Artist

Karl Wolfe, from MDAH Archives
Karl Wolfe, left, from MDAH Archives

"Long ago, they called Brookhaven Homeseekers' Paradise and back in town, near the railway station, a signboard still stands, freshly painted proclaiming this legend. But for me, this paradise was lost forever when we moved away.
I was a vulnerable 10-year-old when we moved to Columbia, Mississippi, and I found it impossible not to hate that town.

The Illinois Central Railroad ran a straight line through Brookhaven, tying together the country from New Orleans to Chicago. A mainline railroad connection made a tremendous difference in the cultural development of a small town. No passenger trains came through Columbia." -- Karl Wolfe.
The above quotation is from the first chapter of the autobiography, Mississippi Artist: A Self Portrait by Karl Wolfe. 

Karl Ferdinand Wolf was born in 1904 in Brookhaven to Wiley Woodard Wolfe and Elizabeth Heuck Wolfe.  (Karl's uncle, Charles F. "Joe Jr." Heuck, served as mayor of Brookhaven from 1910 to 1918.)

Though he lived in Brookhaven for only 10 years, our small railroad town had a lasting impact on young Karl: an art teacher had given second grade students a sprig of goldenrod in glass and instructed her students to draw it with wax crayons; Karl's won first place, and a life as an artist was born.

It was his father's work in the longleaf pine lumber business that took the family off to life in Columbia, MS, in 1914, as related in Karl's narrative above.  

As a young teen, Karl toiled long and hard in the logging camps for his supervisor father, but his desire to be trained formally as an artist never went away.  That dream was finally realized once he received higher education in New Orleans, had saved enough money and was accepted at the Chicago Institute of Art as a young man in 1924.

He met his future wife, Mildred Nungester, in another art school in 1937, and the couple was married in 1944. 

They moved to Mississippi, settled in Jackson in 1946, and opened a studio in the woods along what is now I-55 in North Jackson. Their work and their studio became a cultural mainstay in the state.

Karl died in 1984, Mildred in 2009.  Their studio is still in operation today, run by their daughter, Elizabeth (Bebe) Wolfe. 
To see examples of his artwork, here is a link to an auction site.  Excerpts from Mississippi Artist: A Self Portrait by Karl Wolfe, University of Mississippi Press can be read here.  The book is also for sale on Amazon, for those interested.  Note: Karl's mastery of the English language is as impressive as his artistry with a brush.) Mildred Nungester Wolfe's obituary can be read here.

And finally, a link to the Wolfe Studio, as it operates today, is here.

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