Native American Chief #94, Jimmie Lee Sudduth Painting
U.S.A, c. 1995
36 x 24 in (91 x 61 cm)
Portrait of a Native American Chief, gazing contemplatively. Jimmie Lee Sudduth's first wife was Native American, and her heritage might have served as inspiration for the large series of work Sudduth painted on Native Americans.
Jimmie Lee Sudduth was one of the early masters of southern self-taught art. He was born March 10, 1910 in Caines Ridge, Alabama, near Fayette, where he lived for most of his life. There he worked for years as a farm hand, although even from an early age Sudduth had an affinity for art. "I started drawin' when I was three years old, and I been drawin' ever since," he said. "I always use mud. That's right. And charcoal out of the fireplace. My mama was a medicine doctor, you know. She'd go out and get stuff outdoors, and I'd be drawing on a tree with the charcoal and mud." True to his word, Sudduth painted with whatever materials he happened to have on hand. He would use grasses, berries, and even soot for color. His favorite and most used pigment was mud, which he experimented mixing with sugar, soft drinks, and instant coffee to make it adhere better to the plywood, doors, and other found wood he painted on. He finally decided on sugar as the best adherent, and through this combination of mud and sugar—and eventually paint when his paintings became more in demand—he created his distinct medium, "sweet mud." Sudduth claimed "you can paint a thousand dollars worth of pictures with just a cupful of sugar." After years of prolific painting, Sudduth's work finally gained widespread recognition, and he was chosen as one of the two artists to represent Alabama at the Smithsonian Institute's Bicentennial Festival of American Folk Life in 1976. Since then, his paintings have been featured in museums across the country, from the Birmingham Museum of Art to the American Museum of Folk Art in New York. Sudduth passed away in 2007. Right up to the end, he kept on painting.
Artist: Jimmie Lee Sudduth
Material: Mud and paint on wood