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Dot Courson, Elvis & Trace State Park

October 11, 2012

Campsite 007

Trace State Park, Pontotoc, Mississippi

Our last “visiting” stop was in Pontotoc, Mississippi, home of artist Dot Courson and her husband, Jackie.  They had recommended Trace State Park, which was only about three miles from their home.  Trace is a really nice wooded park on the edge of a large lake.  I had made reservations a week or so earlier, and had selected site number 007.   Just couldn’t resist.

This is another red dirt park, and would probably have been a little messy if it had rained.  However, there is also a lot of grass along the water’s edge.  The beauty of it is that it is beautiful.  We’ve been fortunate to get some really nice sites at state parks.  Since we were travelling so soon after a major holiday, we had no problem getting a reservation using the Mississippi park service’s online reservation system.  And we had full hookups, including sewer.  They have plenty of large RV sites with concrete pads, so we managed to level the motorhome easily.  Our site was waterfront, and even with other campers who came in on the weekend, we still had a nice view.

Trace State Park is just off the Natchez Trace Parkway.  It has an address in Pontotoc, Mississippi, but it’s just right up the road from Tupelo, birthplace of Elvis Presley.

Elvis’ childhod home

Nell giving a young Elvis some encouragemt

Tupelo is the county seat of Lee County, and with a population over 30000, is the seventh largest city in Mississippi. The area was once home to the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indian tribes.  Aside from being the birthplace  of Elvis Presley, Tupelo was also the site of the last-known bank robbery of Machine Gun Kelly.  (I knew you’d want to know that.)  In 1936, the Tupelo Tornado struck at night, leveling 48 city blocks and 200 homes.  Over 200 people were killed and hundreds injured in what is ranked as the fourth deadliest tornado in U.S. history.

Elvis’s home was actually in another location in Tupelo, but the house and the church the family attended were moved to this spot, where there is also a museum (which is closed on Sunday).  Undaunted, we figured we couldn’t pass through Tupelo without visiting the place.  If we had been there longer, we would have visited the Oren Dunn Museum, a regional collection of all things Tupelo, and the Tupelo Automobile Museum.

Studying Dot’s technique

The real purpose for stopping in Pontotoc/Tupelo was to visit artist friend Dot Courson.  I had met Dot a couple of years ago at the Southeastern Plein Air Invitational in Gadsden, Alabama and fell in love with her.  Dot is a wonderful painter with no pretensions.  I am convinced that wanting to help other artists is simply part of her DNA.

Equally unassuming is Dot’s husband, Dr. Jackie Courson, who retired from the Mississippi State University Extension Service where he was the Associate Director, in charge of the state’s county programs.  We were welcomed into their beautiful home, which is also shared with Scaredy, a little stray cat they adopted, and Cane a sweet little “escape artist” dog that they found on a painting trip.  He may kill me for posting this photo, but it is typical Jackie, comfortable and busy, in this case, cooking up a wonderful dinner for the four of us.

While Jackie cooked, Dot took Nell and I on a tour of the property surrounding their home.  They often host painting workshops for other artists, and the grounds have been the subject of quite a few landscape studies.  In fact, I shot a few reference photos myself.  She also took us on a tour of their extensive collection of paintings throughout the house.  I was flattered that one of my little plein air paintings will join others by some well-known present-day artists.

I managed to paint with Dot on two different days right near our campsite at Trace State Park.  The first day, we painted at the water’s edge.  On the second day, Dot joined me for a couple of hours in my “outdoor studio”.

The first day we were at Trace State Park, I got an early start on painting alone down by the water’s edge.  A young mother approached with her two children and asked if they could watch.  During our conversation, the little girl showed quite an interest, and said she had drawn a picture of a Toucan at school.  The little boy asked several times if he could help me paint, and the mother said no.  It turned out that the family was camped nearby, and on Sunday, as they were preparing to leave, they all walked over to say goodby.  The little girl, Kelsey, brought a very well done crayon drawing of a Toucan that she had done the previous day, and gave it to me.  Both of the kids got the chance to spread a little paint on a piece of scrap board.  I love it when parents encourage their children to explore art.

Tree stump, 8×8, Gouache, Plein Air

This was another wonderful visit with an artist friend.  We painted and got better acquainted.  Along with our spouses, we ate good food and enjoyed some great fellowship.  Along with the other artists we’ve met and spent time with, we’ll add this to our growing collection of great memories.

This was our last major stop before heading back to Texas for the winter.  But it wasn’t our last opportunity to meet someone new.  You never know who or what you’ll stumble onto when you travel.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2012 5:12 am

    What a great phrase…we painted and got better acquainted. Lovely. Safe travels, happy brushes. Cheers Sue

    • October 12, 2012 2:59 pm

      Thanks, Sue. Took a quick peek at your blog. Fascinating reading. I’ll be back.

  2. October 12, 2012 9:25 am

    Hi Ralph.
    Wonderful pictures, paintings and info` that you always post, thank you. All the best .
    Vic.

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