Samuel Mockbee, famous American architect, teacher, and artist, can by right be called one of the most extraordinary artists of twentieth century. If the main purpose of art is primarily developing human life and soul, then Samuel Mockbee achieved the highest manifestation of major goal of art.
Samuel Mockbee was born in small town in Alabama in the year 1944. He felt an inclination towards art and architecture in the early childhood and since then he never changed his mind. After finishing school and serving in the army young Sam went to Georgia to study architecture. In several years, after graduating from Architecture School Mockbee started working as an architect. From this time he began his path in direction of serving people putting all his efforts and talent to improving life of common southern American inhabitants. He founded an architectural company with his close friend that later gained many national awards. However the major project of Sam Mockbee as an architect was Rural Studio. As a program within Auburn University the Rural Studio involved architecture students to create buildings for poor people of Alabama made of non-expensive recycled material that were both functional and beautiful. “The house must be warm and nice… but it needs to have a spirit” Mockbee used to teach his students. Samuel Mockbee won numerous awards including the MacArthur genius grant. Samuel Mockbee died in the year 2001 from leukemia.
Being truly genius architect and teacher Samuel Mockbee was also the author of artworks of rather diverse art directions. As a painter he created many vivid paintings that expressed his good-natured and generous soul along with his creative and extraordinary mind. However his architectural projects along with his paintings by right may be equally called works of art due to tremendous talent and spirit of the author. In the current paper I would like to describe several Samuel Mockbee’s artworks of different types that were connected by the same story and devoted to the same family. While working in the Rural Studio with his students very often Mockbee made good friends with his clients. The Bryant family became one of them. Alberta and Shepard Bryant became close friends of Sam Mockbee in the period when he was working on their house with his Rural Studio students. Later this nice couple inspired Sambo (this is the name close friends used to call Mockbee) to create few paintings. Mockbee oftentimes used images of real people, including his own family, in pictures. Therefore both Alberta and Shepard Bryant were honored to become the main characters of their friend’s paintings.
Alberta Bryant‘s image appeared in 1999 in Samuel Mockbee’s painting “Alberta’s Ascension”. The author depicted Alberta herself very realistic way sitting into her wheelchair as for Alberta herself is wheelchair-bound. This painting is rather large, around one hundred to seventy four inches. The author painted it with oil on common paper and put it on the frame made of salvaged pieces of wood. Alberta is holding a hand of strange creature. It is either goddess or an angel covered with feathers that has something in common with a fairy tale bird. Alberta’s wheelchair is mounted onto the shell of a huge turtle painted brightly with vivid colors. This must symbolize the basis life referring to the mythological turtle that holds the Earth on its shell. Mockbee oftentimes referred to mythology in his paintings as for he was always attracted with mystical phenomena. The painting is colorful and vivid with use of various folklore motifs.
The portrayal of Shepard Bryant was depicted by Samuel Mockbee in the same 1999 year. It was called “The Ascension of Shepard Bryant”. The style of this picture is similar with the one described above including the size, about ninety six to fifty inches. This picture was painted by oil on plywood and put onto frame made of salvaged painted plywood. The image of Shepard Bryant is portrayed here on the figures of two doves. His face appears on birds’ images sitting on the branch of unusual tree. The turtle is again depicted here tied to the same branch with a butterfly on its shell. This painting recalls mythology, fairy tales, and mysticism for its surreal images and unusual shapes. The style of both paintings is the same including combination of colors. Blue and yellow are dominant in both pictures. These paintings are depicted in typical Samuel Mockbee’s manner expressing his vivid talent.
There is another Mockbee’s artwork I would like to describe that is as well connected to Alberta and Shepard Bryant and their family. At the same time it is the dearest and the most invaluable work of Samuel Mockbee to this family. It is the Hay Bale House. This house was the first building Mockbee created with his students within the Rural Studio thus Bryants were the first people that received the house to live in from this project. This is the reason why the author and his clients were in so close and warm relationships. To my mind all of those who are able to come to Hale County in Alabama to see this house would consider it a real artwork. This is why I decided to described it among Samuel Mockbee’s works of art together with his outstanding paintings.
The Hay Bale House is truly made of hay bales covered with stucco. The prime cost of this building is unbelievably cheap especially in contrast to its comfortable and functional interior and aesthetic look. It is three-room house constructed so that you feel warm in winter there and cool in hot south summer. Along with 24-inch hay bales Mockbee used acrylic panels, stone, road signs, bottle glass, and other salvaged or cheap materials. However this building truly looks as the genius masterpiece of outstanding architect.
It is really hard to describe Mockbee’s extraordinary art on few pages. The best summary of his life and works was made by one of his close friends R.K. Ruth: “The world is a better place because of Samuel Mockbee!” (Dean and Hursley 132).
Dean, Andrea and Timothy Hursley. Proceed and Be Bold: Rural Studio After Samuel Mockbee. Princeton Architectural Press, 2005.
Moos, David, and Samuel Mockbee. Samuel Mockbee and the Rural Studio: Community Architecture. Birmingham Museum of Art, 2003.
Dean, Andrea. Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and an Architecture of Decency. Princeton Architectural Press, 2003.
Bell, Bryan. Good Deeds, Good Design: Community Service through Architecture. Princeton Architectural Press, 2003.
Ivy, Robert. Samuel Mockbee: A Life’s Work. Architectural Record. 7 Dec 2005. <http://archrecord.construction.com/features/ aiaAwards/04gold.asp#>