Lafayette County Board of Supervisors declare January 15 Theora Hamblett Day

Published 12:28 pm Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Editor’s note: A clarification on the involvement of Theora Hamblett’s relatives in the revitalization of her legacy in Lafayette County and Oxford was added as of Jan. 28, 2022. In addition, wording of one quotation by Harvey Jones was edited with an asterisk (*) for clarification.

In a recent article it may not have been clear that relatives of Theora Hamblett, three of her great-great-nieces, are responsible for the procurement and installation of the new historical marker placed near the artist’s burial place: Ann Wilson Holifield, Ginny Wilson Mounger, and Amy Lyles Wilson. Their mother, Martha Lee Lyles Wilson, was a descendant of Theora’s. Having the marker installed was one of the last things they promised their mother they would do for her.

The Lafayette County Board of Supervisors have officially declared January 15 as Theora Hamblett Day.

Renowned artist and lifelong resident of Lafayette County, Hamblett was born January 15, 1895 in Paris, Mississippi, and became a self-taught painter who used vibrant colors to depict the nature and landscape around her. 

According to the University of Mississippi Museum, the chicken farm she was born and raised on became the subject of many of her paintings.

“We have some local ties here and we have some folks who are still trying to carry on her memory,” said Board President Mike Roberts.

For the past couple of years, local retired veteran Harvey Jones has made it his mission to bring more recognition to Hamblett, renowned painter and lifelong resident of Lafayette County. Jones has owned the land where Hamblett lived for over 30 years, a piece of land in Paris, which surrounds the Hamblett family cemetery where she was eventually buried.

“When I first recognized the place, I started working then with a man named Bill Lyles to put up a fence around it and cleaned up the grounds around it,” said Jones.

He said this initiative to bring Hamblett more recognition started up in earnest once he retired from the U.S. Army and could devote all his attention to his project.

The goal of his project is to help more county residents discover and learn about Hamblett and her place in the local culture.

“It says on her tombstone ‘Gone but not forgotten,’ but, really in Lafayette County and in the state of Mississippi, she has been forgotten,” said Jones. “She has work hanging in some of the most expensive museums in the United States. She has work [displayed*] in embassies across the world. More people outside of Mississippi know Theora Hamblett than the people in Mississippi and Lafayette County do.”

The Museum of Modern Art in New York has some of her work on display, but the Ole Miss Museum has the largest collection of her work, which was donated after her death.

Although this project only began about four years ago, Jones has worked with the county board and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to place a Magnolia sign along Highway 315 in honor of Hamblett, a route Hamblett often used to get to her art lessons at the university, and a sign at Hamblett Cemetery with three examples of her paintings.

In addition, the county has paved a road to the cemetery for potential visitors.

Jones has connected with Hamblett’s remaining family, three grand-nieces who live in the Mid-South region and, most recently, her great-nephew Bradley Hamblett Camp who still lives within the county.

The three great-grandnieces Ann Wilson Holifield, Ginny Wilson Mounger and Amy Lyles Wilson— their mother Martha Lee Lyles Wilson was a descendant of Hamblett’s— were responsible for procuring and installing the new historical marker placed near the artist’s burial place.  Having the marker installed was one of the last things they promised their mother they would do for her.

Through collaboration with the family and the community, Jones said they can bring Theora’s Hamblett legacy into the light.

Jones said he hopes local buildings like the Lafayette County Chancery Court and local galleries could put her work on display, so people can view them whenever possible.

“If we can get people together to set up something for Theora Hamblett in the times to come, that would be a nice thing,” he said. “If we could get the pull of the University, maybe we could get showings of her art.”

Outside of the Theora Hamblett Project, Jones is hoping to uncover more unmarked or small family cemeteries that were lost due to families relocating or property sales. He recently discovered his land surrounds another cemetery belonging to the Crockett family. 

“I’m starting to look at getting signs made to where those little cemeteries are at least marked where future generations can find them,” he said. 

Jones said he’d like it if Hamblett was taught in schools for the next generation, especially on Theora Hamblett Day.

“I just want everyone to know [Hamblett] is from Lafayette County, she’s a part of Lafayette County and we should all know about her,” said Jones.