Focused on Mississippi: Hot art in the Delta

Focused on Mississippi

ROLLING FORK, Miss. (WJTV) – Lee Washington is an artist who is from Rolling Fork, Mississippi. His art is not what you’d expect. His brush is a cutting torch, and his canvas is a welder. With those tools, he makes new things from old things.

Washington’s artistic medium is as about as Delta as a cotton field; worn out cotton picker spindles. He saw a bunch of them years ago when he first started teaching welding. In his mind, he also saw something else; little people.

“Well, I was messing around with them on a table the Friday of spring break 2001, trying to see what I could make out of them or anything. And I shaped a stick man and went from there to here,” Washington explained.

He has his own gallery in Rolling Fork.

“It’s a house with a porch on it. It’s gray, and it’s one big room that I use for my gallery.”

Out back is his studio. I guess some people would call it a shop because it’s full of welders and torch cutters and scrap metal.

“Well, primarily I use the cotton the picker spindles to make my figures. I also use horseshoes, and I use railroad spikes, and any other metal that I can weld.”

Washington takes that raw material and heats, bends, cuts, welds and rearranges spindles and spark plugs and comes up with hunters, the hunted, linemen, Bluesmen, and complex machines rivaling Da Vinci in imagination.

“If you come in, you’ll see just about everything from sports to medicine to doctors and even have photographers and things of that nature.”

People do come in from all over the world to see the birthplace of the Blues.

“I talked to some people from Switzerland, and they were saying this was like a pilgrimage to come see the birthplace of Muddy Waters.”

It’s funny how life works out and how your dreams come true in ways you never thought of.

“Years ago in the Army, I had a dream that I was gonna be wealthy when I get in my mid-years. And I’m waiting on the money. But what it was, when I became about 45, I discovered how to make art. And that is the wealth of knowledge and skills.”

The skill to take one thing and make something else from it, something humorous and cleaver, that’s delighted people from all over the world when they’ve seen it. 

Washington’s art is available at the Two Mississippi Museums gift shop in Jackson, the Mississippi Craftsman’s Guild in Ridgeland and in the gray house on Walnut Street in Rolling Fork.

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