Written by M. Scott Morris | Photographed by Joe Worthem
A northeast Mississippi mother and daughter share a love for art.
The art of creating something new requires making one decision after another. The rule applies to a painting as well as to a life.
Or, in this case, it applies to two lives.
Dot Courson and her daughter, Susan Patton, are full-time artists, but that hasn’t always been the case. When Patton was a child, Courson was a nurse.
“I didn’t paint in those days. I was too busy working and raising a family,” said Courson, a 67-year-old Pontotoc resident.
Patton followed her mother’s lead into the healthcare world by becoming a physical therapist. She found her own way into art and then gave it her full attention in 2017.
“I’m painting because God gave me the resources and the ability and the desire. I’m following him in this,” said Patton, 45, of Bruce. “I’m trying to be truthful with my life — sincere and authentic.”
Courson enjoys painting intricate Southern scenes, including sunsets, country roads and cotton patches. Patton is known for her portraits but also does still life.
When they get the chance on pleasant days, both can be found set up somewhere outside with paints and easels for plein air painting.
“We both love plein air,” Courson said. “It’s just fun.”
They also study art books, attend workshops and apply themselves to one canvas after another. The quality of their finished works depends on the number and nature of the many decisions that accumulate along the way.
“To start, the goal is making art and not just a painting,” Courson said. ”There’s a big difference.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed an opportunity for viewers to judge Courson and Patton’s results for themselves. The pair were slated to grace the walls at GRIT in Taylor beginning in August. That’s been pushed back to spring.
Samples of their work are available at dotcourson.com and susanpattonart.com. A December open house and upcoming workshops will be listed on Patton’s website. She postponed two workshops because of the pandemic.
“She usually gives them all over the country,” Courson said.
Neither artist relies on selling at festivals, which have been canceled or postponed during the pandemic, so they focused on finishing commissions and developing skills.
Their work has been recognized by American Women Artists, American Impressionists Society and more.
“She and I both, mother and daughter, got into the Eastern Oil Painters of America’s Regional Show. That was a big honor,” Courson said. “We’ve gotten into a lot of shows together.”
Courson is recognized as a “Legend of the Visual Arts” at the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Museum in Meridian. Her photograph is positioned next to photos of country singer Tammy Wynette and blues musician Othar Turner.
“We were there taking a picture of the display, and a line was forming. We were going to get out of their way,” Courson said. “It turned out the staff had learned I was there and wanted to meet me. I was so thrilled.”
Their work has been purchased by art collectors around the country. One Mississippi family has an appreciation for both artists.
“Mine didn’t go in the main house,” Courson said. “It’s in the guest house.”
“Mine’s in the big house,” Patton said with a smile.
Planning is a major part of their success. Mother and daughter agreed that a painting begins long before picking up a brush.
“A lot of artists don’t make decisions,” Patton said. “They just paint.”
Patton’s husband got an impromptu lesson in how his wife thinks when he accompanied her to a turnip patch.
“I pulled up a turnip, looked at it and started looking around the field, kind of staring off. My husband said, ‘I thought we were going to get some turnips to paint,’” Patton said. “I had to get the atmosphere. You compose and plan the painting in your mind even before you put your painting on canvas. I have to get the atmosphere.”
The work itself can go smoothly but not always. Part of painting is knowing when things aren’t going well. Patton and Courson have different ways of dealing with inevitable obstacles.
“A lot of times I’ll clear it off and start over,” Patton said.
“She will do that,” Courson said. “I can’t. I have to try to fix it.”
At different times in their lives, both artists exchanged secure jobs for the ups and downs of creativity. Now, their worlds are filled with color and inspiration as well as the shared desire to push themselves and their talents as far as they’ll go.
“Make the effort and decide,” Courson said.
“That’s all you can do,” Patton added.