The last time a collection of Rhoda B. Stokes’ paintings was exhibited in one space was 1984, when the LSU Museum of Art staged a retrospective of the artist’s work.
So, the Town of Jackson Bicentennial Committee thought it was time to put the late artist back in the spotlight with a one-day show on Saturday, Sept. 26.
“We’ll have at least 17 paintings there,” exhibit committee spokeswoman Donna Kilbourne says. “We’re borrowing them from private collections, so we may have a few more coming”
This show isn’t a retrospective of Stokes’ work, but that doesn’t make it any less important, as it marks the first local show recognizing her life and work in three decades.
“We wanted to do something special for our bicentennial celebration,” says Kilbourne, who also is a spokeswoman for the Town of Jackson’s Cultural District. “Rhoda Stokes didn’t live in Jackson, but she still has relatives in the area. We thought it was a good fit.”
The event is one in Jackson’s yearlong celebration and includes an art show and sale with local and regional artists, open houses at various Jackson antique shops, wine tasting at Feliciana Cellars, and music and refreshments along Charter Street in Jackson.
As for Stokes, she was a self-taught artist born in the southwest Mississippi town of Meadville and grew up in Liberty, just a few miles north of Jackson. She moved to Baton Rouge after marrying Thomas Stokes, who later encouraged her to take art classes at the local YMCA.
Her teacher was Jay Broussard, director of the Louisiana Art Commission.
“He recognized that Mrs. Stokes had a natural talent that could stand some mild direction, but not much academic instruction as to destroy the fresh, naive charm of her work,” the LSU Museum of Art states in the catalog “Rhoda Brady Stokes: a retrospective,” published to accompany the 1984 exhibit.
The museum was known as the Anglo-American Art Museum at that time.
The catalog also documents how one of Stokes’ paintings was included in the Louisiana Art Commission’s 1953 state art show at Louisiana’s Old State Capitol and sold for $20.
She was classified as a folk artist, and, like many of her colleagues in this genre, her work depicted scenes of the people and places she knew in life.
“While the larger part of her work centers on the farming area around Liberty, Mississippi, she also loves south Louisiana, which has been her home since 1923,” the catalog states. “Mrs. Stokes is fascinated by another folk group that lives near Baton Rouge — the French-descended Acadians. Her Louisiana subjects frequently feature their indigenous cottages and unusual jobs, such as the picking Spanish moss, which was used for stuffing mattresses and making upholstered furniture.”
Stokes was alive when LSU exhibited her paintings. She died in 1988, and collectors worldwide still seek out her work. Collectors John Jackson, Connie Huffman McMillin and Pat Snow are loaning their Stokes paintings to this show.