Jimmy Lee Sudduth (1910-2007)

Sudduth, who lived in a shot gun house in Fayette, Alabama, once said, "I'm easy to find. I'm in the center of the universe!" Sudduth finger painted beautiful earth-toned pictures. "You see that black mud? All you got to do is take that black mud and put you a little sugar in it. Stir it up and sweeten it, add a little water and you can paint all day." He also used homegrown plants for color. Rose petals for red, wild turnip leaves for green, a chalky clay for white. "I don't like to use paint too much," he said.

Sudduth's first public art exhibition was held in 1968 at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa. A 1971 exhibition in his home town of Fayette earned regional attention and, beginning that year, he became a featured artist at the annual Kentuck Festival of the Arts in Northport, Alabama. In 1976, he was invited to play harmonica and exhibit some of his painting at the Smithsonian Institution's Bicentennial Festival of American Folk Life. He appeared on the Today Show and 60 Minutes in 1980. He was honored with the Alabama Arts Award in 1995 and served as an artist-in-residence at the New Orleans Museum of Art. His work is featured in many collections, including the Smithsonian Institution, the High Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery, the Birmingham Museum of Art and the House of Blues.

Sudduth was one of the early masters of southern self-taught art. Although the field is often conflated with "outsider art," Sudduth demonstrates the limitations of the latter term. He was an active member of his community, and his work, though idiosyncratic, is firmly grounded in the African American culture of the rural South. Nor does it display the flights of imagination seen in true visionary art. He drew his subject matter from the world around him: people he knew (and celebrities), architecture, farm scenes, machinery, flowers, and animals of the woods and barnyard. Very rarely, he portrayed a religious figure such as Christ, Moses, or John the Baptist.

Sudduth was also an accomplished harmonica player and often would sit down and wail out a spiritual while one of his paintings dried. He was proud of his success and his appearance on the Today show. He frequently liked to boast, "I'm the most famousest in the world." Sudduth spent his last year in the Fayette Nursing Home. He died at the Fayette Medical Center on September 2, 2007 at the age of 97.

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