Storytelling school

Storytelling as Art: Snake House Exhibits Paintings by Whitfield | Local News

VALDOSTA – Grady “Mr. Spanky” Whitfield is an artist and storyteller.

Through visual arts, theatre, writing and voice, Whitfield shares stories of her life and the lives of others. He tells stories of his life that sound like something out of “Forrest Gump”, a life full of adventures and encounters with famous people – Miles Davis and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, for example.

His paintings evoke these adventures and a life lived fully and artistically.

Whitfield’s paintings are on display at the Barbara Passmore Literary Arts Center in the Snake House, 110 W. Force St., home of Snake Nation Press, a Valdosta-based literary publisher.

It has stories for each painting. Stories that touch on his experiences, the black experience, the human experience.

For “Keep Blowing, Miles”, Whitfield tells the story of an encounter with the great jazz trumpeter Miles Davis.

“The Marriage Day” is “taken from a photograph that Spanky found in the archives of a New York library, showing an African and Spanish man and a Seminole woman, dressed in native costumes”, according to information provided by Jean Arambula and Roberta George with the National Press Serpent. “The man is an Indian scout, who worked for the government and the woman is obviously pregnant.”

“Henry Green” is a painting of a man “born blind and enslaved. His mother worked in the big house but the ladies in the big house were tired of seeing him bang on the piano, so they taught him to play He often played for Confederate troops and Union troops, depending on who was winning at the time,” according to the Whitfield story behind the painting.

“Henry Ossawa Tanner” is a painting by the black American painter who achieved international fame in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The paintings also depict the people of South Georgia.

“The Last Seminole Scout” appears in a white jacket and hat, “often referred to as ‘Timbuktu’ is related to Spanky through his 104-year-old grandmother, Rosalee Whitfield. The others are members of Spanky’s family .”

The late Reverend Willie Wade is portrayed wearing his Union Army cap and coat in “Company 103”. Wade researched the history of the Black Union troops that occupied Valdosta after the Civil War and traced his roots to a soldier in that troop.

“Mr. Riley” is based on a man “from Johnson Street in Valdosta, Georgia, who lived to be 93 and even to 70, helped lay railroad tracks all over South Georgia” , according to information from Snake Nation.

“Bill Pickens” shows an “individual from Brooks County in Gainesville, Florida, dressed in an authentic bulldog costume, 21 years after the abolition of slavery,” according to information provided by the Snake House. “The man’s family was made up of farmers in Rosewood, Florida, but at that time cattle could be driven where cows were purchased, which required men who could bulldog.”

Whitfield was born in 1947 in Lowndes County. He talks about his early years with his grandparents, Charlie and Emma Hall, who encouraged his art. He remembers drawing with crayons and colored pencils as a child.

“I attended Magnolia Elementary School and developed an interest in fine art,” notes Whitfield. “Dr. Carter D. Marshall was a visiting music teacher for the Valdosta school system and became my mentor. I learned the meaning of ‘When I follow directions, I will succeed’.”

As a young adult, he moved to New York, where he was involved in various artistic pursuits including painting, writing, and acting. He also spent time in Boston.

“After several different types of jobs and meeting famous and infamous people, I returned to the South, living for a time in Tallahassee and Gainesville, Florida,” notes Whitfield. “Now I’m the self-appointed Archivist of Valdosta Westside.”

Through its Westside Archives project, Whitfield has honored many black men and women, mostly between the ages of 90 and 100 and older, in the Valdosta area. In the past, he has run arts programs for young people and is working on a play he hopes to stage next year.

The Grady “Mr. Spanky” Whitfield exhibit can be viewed from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, at the Snake House, 110 W. Force St., or by appointment by calling Jean Arambula, ( 229) 444-5191.