As gift-giving time rapidly approaches, it’s good to know about the latest books of Mississippi writers and photographers. These books are welcome gifts, and one that’s sure to please is “Choctaw Gardens” by Hilda Stuart, mother of country music star Marty Stuart.
Hilda Stuart began compiling her photographic work at age 16. The images in the book not only trace the lives of her family but also highlight the technological advancements in photography in the 20th Century through an abrupt shift from black-and-white to color photographs. Her photos capture life’s seemingly arbitrary moments in a gripping, intimate way, giving viewers insight into southern life from the late 1940s to today.
There’s lots of praise for “Choctaw Gardens.”
Distinguished scholar and folklorist Tom Rankin wrote the book’s foreword and collaborated with Marty Stuart to archive and compile the 79-year-old photographer’s immense collection of photographs. “With clarity and wisdom, Choctaw Gardens is a brilliant body of imagery about Hilda Stuart’s home state of Mississippi and her virtuoso son,” Rankin wrote.
Noted photographer Maude Schuyler Clay said of Stuart’s work, “Hilda Stuart possesses a discerning and loving archivist’s photographic eye.”
One of Marty Stuart’s fellow country music stars, Merle Haggard, said, “Hilda Stuart’s photographs come straight from the heart of the American dream. They have stories to tell.”
Acclaimed Mississippi-born artist Bill Dunlap said, “Choctaw Gardens says a lot about how my generation of North Mississippi Hill Tribes grew up.”
Some of the images featured in Choctaw Gardens were curated by Rankin and exhibited publicly for the first time last year at Duke University at the Center for Documentary Studies, where Rankin serves as director.
Along with Hilda Stuart’s talent as a photographer, the book’s collection of photographs provides a never-before-seen look at the country music industry of the mid- to late 20th Century through her son’s career. There are photos of Marty holding his first guitar, a childhood image of him holding a Johnny Cash album and much later chatting backstage with Cash before a show and performing at the Grand Ole Opry.