M.B. Mayfield Foundation
A Celebration of Mississippi Art and Culture
Join Us in Celebrating His Inspiring Art
Throughout the course of his life, M.B. Mayfield envisioned his home state and surroundings as his subject and easel. Mayfield was born on April 26, 1923 in Ecru, Mississippi. The Mayfield family owned a farm of about one hundred acres on which they raised cotton. Mayfield began drawing as a child and began to paint as a teenager. He attended a one-room schoolhouse in Ecru through eighth grade but had no further formal education until he refined his craft in 1949 as an “unofficial” student at the University of Mississippi.
M. B. Mayfield, a Northeast Mississippi visionary artist, has been recognized as circumventing segregation to study art. He took classes at the University of Mississippi, though never registered there. He is significant for his paintings and sculpture, for his courage in unofficially integrating the school, and for a life in which he overcame discrimination and stereotype. He wielded his art and gentle personality as tools for achieving his goals in a hostile world, unifying his community through art.
Before returning to Ecru in the late 1970's, M.B. Mayfield lived in Oxford, Mississippi, in Racine, Wisconsin, and in Memphis, Tennessee. His first art exhibit was in Starkville, Mississippi, immediately following his time studying with Purser. His paintings are held by and were displayed at the UM Museum during the 1986 Yoknapatawpha Conference on "Faulkner and Race" in Oxford, Mississippi. Soon following, he exhibited at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans and the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. In more recent years, M.B. Mayfield has been included in books on integration, art history, and has been the subject of documentary film, scholarly publication, and many interviews that are in publication. His autobiography The Baby Who Crawled Backwards contains many photographs of his art. It was written at his home and published locally.
M.B.'s story includes the University of Mississippi during segregation. His story is a significant piece, and a unique one, which helps in framing an understanding of the complexity of the civil rights struggle in Mississippi.
"Mayfield’s ‘memory scenes’ paintings are a vibrant chronicle of his community."
"His paintings present a social history of a small town in the rural American South during the first half of the twentieth-century."
-Jeannie Speck-Thompson, MLIS
Where History Happened
M.B Mayfield House
Mayfield grew up in a house much like this one, and that is where our story begins. On a warm early summer day in 1949, Mayfield ran inside to see why his mother was calling him. When he got to the front porch, a man named Professor Stuart R. Purser, M.F.A., introduced himself as the new art professor at the University of Mississippi. Professor Purser gave Mayfield two things that day, a generous supply of high-quality art supplies and, “His offer for me to come to ‘Ole Miss’ and work as a custodian for his Art Department.” When writing his autobiography, Mayfield said, "As I reflect on that incident, I must say that was the major turning point in my life.” Mayfield eventually went to Ole Miss and took art classes in secret under Professor Purser’s instruction. He eventually had to return here, however. His mother grew sick, so most of his family rushed over to their house to spend time with her. She eventually got better, and the visiting family left, but Mayfield had to stay in Ecru because he knew his mother could not be left alone anymore. After Mayfield’s mother died, he remained in Ecru and got into a car wreck that made him afraid to drive, so he had to rely on his niece, Shirley Ware, to give him rides around town to the doctor or the grocery store.
Mayfield eventually died in this house. Ms. Shirley received a call from the local authorities that she should go up to Mayfield’s house because something had happened. Before this, Shirley was Mayfield’s primary caretaker, and on this particular morning, She had already gotten Mayfield some food for him. She was not allowed inside the house when she got there, and they informed her that he had passed away. Right after explaining this event in her oral history, Shirley says, “The most fun time was when we when we would, he would draw pictures, and we would look at them and go outside.”
After Mayfield’s death, the house sat and slowly fell into ruin until Jeannie Speck Thompson recalled visiting with the artist at his home. Seeing the house as an integral part of Mayfield's legacy and his art creation, she started a project to preserve it.
With a group of community partners, specifically Gloria High of Ecru and Mayfield's niece, Shirley Mayfield Ware, and through construction work by Nowlin Properties, L.L.C., the Mayfield House has been nearly completely restored. Mayfield lived in the house and painted from 1979 to 2005 creating hundreds of commissioned works of masterful art.