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Oxford artist loves painting, but passionate about teaching

July 7, 2019
This June 30, 2019 photo shows Artist Nancy Mitchell in Oxford, Miss. Mitchell loves painting but her passion has long been art education. She retired after 30 years of teaching art to high school students and now leads "More Than A Painter" art classes for non-artists. (Adam Robison/The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal via AP)

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Throughout childhood in her native Vicksburg, Nancy Andrews Mitchell was a crafty kid.

While her mom crocheted, Mitchell embroidered.

“We’d sit in front of the TV and sew,” she said.

When she was 4 or 5, Mitchell began drawing “lady whales” whenever she had time on her young hands.

“My mother always wondered how I knew they were ladies,” the 64-year-old Mitchell said. “I’d laugh and say, ’The eyelashes, of course.”

When she was in the 5th or 6th grade, Mitchell and her mama made Christmas ornaments out of costume jewelry and velvet.

“We made them for all our teachers,” said the youngest of four. “I was always doing crafty stuff.”

But in junior high, Mitchell said she encountered “real art” in the class of art teacher Jean Blue.

“It was Jean who set me on the path for art,” she said.

A long-ago memory makes Mitchell chuckle.

“I remember coming home from school in 10th or 11th grade,” she said. “Daddy had a big piece of plywood. I started painting — swirly black shapes with pops of color. It was the ’60s. Daddy made a frame and I gave it to my uncle who kept it forever.”

By 12th grade, Mitchell had to decide what she was going to do with her life.

Math was certainly not a personal strength, she said. And she was no writer — “I couldn’t spell, so that was out.”

She attended MUW (then Mississippi State College for Women) and declared herself an art major.

Her college art classes seemed repetitive of what she’d learned in her junior high and high school art classes taught by Blue. Still, she stuck with art, transferring after a semester to Mississippi State University, where she’d eventually graduate with a bachelor’s degree in commercial art.

In high school, the young Nancy Andrews had been acquaintances with a young man named Charlie Mitchell, who’d graduated early and gone on to MSU.

Charlie Mitchell apparently had decided — and shared with a few others — that he would date Andrews when they were in college and that one day he’d marry her. Mitchell contacted her early in her first and only semester at the W and asked her to the first State football game of the season.

“I kind of remembered him,” Nancy Mitchell said, laughing.

The date went well.

“We talked and talked,” she said. “I was floating on air from the first date.”

There were a few ups and downs in the courtship, but she accepted his eventual tennis court proposal and they married in May 1974, when both were 19.

The two eventually returned to Vicksburg where he took a job at the Vicksburg Evening Post and she worked for a time as an artist in the drafting department at Waterways Experiment Station, where she changed flow arrows on river charts.

After six months of government work, Mitchell began taking steps needed to become certified as a teacher.

Certification accomplished, she taught art the final six weeks at two elementary schools. She taught a semester of middle school, then became a high school art teacher for a short time at Vicksburg High School. Most of her teaching was at Warren Central High School, where she shared her love of art with countless students for 30 years.

During her time as a teacher, Mitchell was among the first secondary art educators in Mississippi to achieve National Board Certification and was Mississippi Art Educators Secondary Teacher of the year in 2003-2004. She retired from Warren Central in 2012.

“I loved high school,” she said. “That was my place. I had a student who said to me, ‘I’m going to major in art,’ and I asked why. His answer was, ‘Because you just look like you have so much fun.’”

Mitchell has former students who are architects, graphic designers and at least one who is an artist who sells his work.

Clearly, she has a passion for art education, even in retirement.

Mitchell has created “More Than A Painting” art classes for people who do not consider themselves artists.

She subscribes to the right brain, left brain theory which, simply put, is that human beings are either left or right brain dominant. Analytical thinkers fall into the left-brain category, while right-brainers tend to be more creative and artistic.

A multimedia artist, Mitchell does not limit her work to painting. She has worked with pen and ink and collage, as well. And she creates her own carved pattern stamps which she uses to add depth and texture to paintings.

The right-brain dominant Mitchell is a study in humility. She quickly downplays her artistic gift, though the paintings that hang on the walls in her basement studio offer a compelling contradiction.

There are colorful paintings of animals, landscapes, architecture.

“I don’t do many people,” Mitchell said of her work.

But there are a few paintings of grandchildren among her canvases. The mother of two daughters, Mitchell is grandmother to five.

And there’s a series of paintings — about six or seven — created based on a dream Mitchell had.

“I dreamed about painting red-wing blackbirds and shoes,” she said. “The image of red high heels popped into my mind. But then I thought of Converse tennis shoes in different colors. Then I woke up.

“It seemed like a weird idea, but I got the camera, went outside by the bird feeder and waited for red-wing blackbirds.”

In college she did oil paintings, but later switched to watercolor.

“After three decades of watercolor, I realized I was not happy with watercolor anymore,” she said. “So, I’m just doing mostly acrylic now. I always used student-grade acrylic, then I discovered a higher-quality acrylic and that has made a difference. I have to be happy with my paint.”

With paintbrush in hand, Mitchell can find joy just about anywhere. But one of her favorite places is the Mississippi Art Colony at Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica.

“I have learned more about myself as an artist going to the Art Colony,” she said. “Really, I’ve found out something about my art every time I go.

“I’ll never be a great artist. I think I was a great teacher, and maybe I’m a good artist. It’s just what I’ve always done, it’s what I do.”

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, http://djournal.com

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