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Tunnel Vision

After a two-year delay, Water Valley artist Hannah McCormick sees her winning work on this year’s Double Decker poster.

Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem

Hannah McCormick was elated when her artwork was chosen for the official 2020 Double Decker Arts Festival poster. Adding to the acknowledgment of her art was a festival booth for her to showcase her work as the featured artist, courtesy of Visit Oxford.

The fact the Starkville native was pregnant with her first child, with the due date precariously near the festival, only added to McCormick’s excitement.

“I was working on contingency plans in case the baby came,” she said. “When they had the first festival press conference in February 2020, I was in my third trimester.”

Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of not only the 2020 Double Decker festival but also the 2021 event. Though disappointed, McCormick received the best consolation prize ever: Baby daughter Noa was born April 29, 2020, a day after her due date.

For the first time in two years, Double Decker is back, and McCormick’s colorful and creative winning poster will represent the 2022 festival.

Since hearing the good news of the return of Double Decker, the 33-year-old artist has been working at a feverish pitch to prepare new work to display in her booth for the April 22-23 celebration of the arts. A white tent has been pitched inside her Water Valley studio to help her get the festival feel.

Art has always been a part of McCormick’s life. She had art instruction in elementary and middle school, and under the direction of Andrew Lark, her art education at Starkville High School was exceptional.

“I think everyone is born loving art,” she said. “Some grow away from it; others don’t. I took art seriously from a really young age. It was part of my identity. And I had tunnel vision — an artist was always what I wanted to be.”

After high school, McCormick attended the Savannah College of Art & Design for a few years before transferring to Ole Miss and participating in the painting program. During her time at Ole Miss and after, McCormick worked various part-time jobs while teaching art lessons and taking on commission work. She didn’t become a full-time freelance artist until 2014. She and her husband, Ryan Pierce, moved from Oxford to Water Valley in 2017, where she designed and he built her art studio next to their home. Pierce, also an artist, does woodworking and builds custom furniture.

McCormick did her first commission work when she was 16.

“It was so validating,” she said. “I was so honored to be asked. It’s through commission work that I get to meet people, and I really love that part of it. My first commission was a portrait, which I find the hardest thing to do. As humans we are wired to be sensitive to faces. And a portrait is a beloved person to someone.”

McCormick has done some watercolors for commissions but works primarily in acrylic and oil. She’s also started painting live events, a recent trend that has grown in popularity. Many of the events are done from a photograph, but McCormick has set up and painted some live events in real time.

And then there’s the teaching, which McCormick said she “sort of fell into,” perhaps in part due to her summers spent teaching arts and crafts at Camp Bratton-Green in Canton. Back in Oxford, a friend she’d met through camp was working as a nanny and reached out to McCormick.

“The family she worked for was looking for an art teacher for their kids, and my friend recommended me,” she said. “I’d go into homes with bins of art supplies, set up at a table and do art lessons. At some point, I said, ‘I think y’all should come to me.’”

And the lessons continue — for all ages.

“They come with enthusiasm,” she said of her art students. “Once a week, this studio is theirs. It is incredibly rewarding and challenging. Sometimes they may want to do something artistic of which I have little knowledge. So, we’ll go research it. The lessons take me out of my comfort zone.”

Undertaking a painting to be considered for the annual Double Decker poster was perhaps more in her comfort zone. McCormick remembers creating it in 2019. She had the entire design worked out, with all the elements she wished to include. Originally, the double-decker bus was in the center with other objects floating about.

“I showed it to my husband,” she said. “And he wondered what it might look like if I stacked the elements.”

She took his advice. The resulting artwork (pictured above, right) will forever be a part of Double Decker history. The bus serves as the base with the water tower, tents, some architectural elements from the Square and other Oxford/festival elements stacked atop it. And at the bottom looking up is Oxford icon and arts lover Ron “Ronzo” Shapiro, who died in August 2019.

After the two-year wait, McCormick is thrilled the Double Decker festival is marking its return to the Square in Oxford.

“It feels great,” she said. “I am really hopeful that this is a sign of things getting better. And I’m excited to finally feel reconnected with my community.”

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