Theora Hamblett


was inspired to paint by her dreams. She also painted cherished memories of her own and of people close to her—the old O’Tuckolofa School, children’s games,“trees along the highways,” making lye soap and sorghum, and carrying cotton to the gin.Hamblett was born on a 200-acre farm near Paris, Mississippi, that had been owned by her father since before the American Civil War, and she understood farmchores and responsibilities from an early age. She graduated from Lafayette County Agricultural High School, near Oxford, Mississippi, and attended Mississippi Normal College before teaching primary grades in small rural schools on and off for fifteen years. Teaching was not satisfying to her, though; and a business she tried,raising chickens, was financially unsuccessful. She moved to Oxford, where she bought a house and converted it into rental apartments. A lingering yearning led her tofill the rooms with paintings.Hamblett began to paint in 1950, enrolling in a nearby university; but her time there was short because the course focused on abstract art, which did not interest her.Instead, she followed her own inclinations. The first vision that she painted,
Angel’s Request,
showed an angel visiting as the artist was ironing. Because people tendedto interpret her “vision” paintings differently from what she intended, Hamblett wrote two small books,
Theora Hamblett Paintings
(1975) and
Dreams and Visions
(1975), in which she interpreted these works herself. The artist claimed that once she committed herself to paint, specific images ceased to obsess her.In composing a picture, Hamblett would first paint trees and then tackle the rest of the forms. Her pareddown minimalist style was abstract yet representational.Patterned trees vibrate with tiny leaves, made all the more kinetic by being placed near fields of solid color. Her mother had bought her a set of crayons when she waseight, but by the time she reached adulthood she preferred to paint with oils on canvas or Masonite, using a subtle palette. The artist followed a rigorous schedule: she painted on “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday mornings, Thursday all day, and sometimes Friday,” but not on weekends.Hamblett’s paintings—some 600 in all—were willed, along with her home, to the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Her painting
Golden Gate,
was donated to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. She had one-person exhibitions at the University of Mississippi Art Center (Oxford, 1955),Brooks Memorial Art Gallery (Memphis, Tennessee, 1956), University of Nebraska (Omaha, 1969), and Mount Hood Community College (Gresham, Oregon,1969).
See also

Painting, American Folk; Painting, Memory; Visionary Art
Bihalji-Merin, Oto.
Encyclopedia of Naïve Painting.
Scranton, Pa., 1984.Ferris, William.
Local Color. A Sense of Place in Folk Art.
New York, 1962.
Four Women Artists.
Center for Southern Folklore, Memphis, Tenn., 1977. (l6-mm color film, 25 minutes.)Hamblett, Theora, with Ed Meek and William S.Hayne.
Theora Hamblett Paintings.
Jackson, Miss., 1975.Rosenak, Chuck, and Jan Rosenak.
Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of American Folk Art and Artists.
New York, 1991