Starkville's vibrant art community beckons support during COVID-19

Charis Brightwell of Taproot Pottery is pictured with her daughter.

These days, many people have much more free time on their hands. There are countless ways to stave off feelings of boredom during this newfound free time, but perhaps one of the most fruitful is to interact with the local art community. Thanks to the internet and social media, people can digitally interact with and offer support to local artists, all while maintaining social distancing guidelines.

Reagan Chambers, a recent graduate of the elementary education program at Mississippi State University, has lived in Starkville for the duration of her time at MSU. She has participated in the local art community for years, offering a collection of vibrant, modern fiber art pieces in the form of crochet.

"Every time I do a show, people will come up to me and say that they remember their mom or grandma crocheting in the past," Chambers said. "Then I say, 'Yes, that is cool, but I am still doing it. And I am showing you that crocheting is not just blankets that your grandmother made. It is also crop tops, scrunchies and earrings and a lot of other things.'" 

Chambers fondly remembers finding expression through art during her high school art classes.  During her time at MSU, Chambers built upon her fiber art hobby by developing a brand for herself, known as Creep Crochet.

Chambers participates in art shows and events in the Tupelo, Mississippi; Starkville, Mississippi and Florence, Alabama areas. Through events like Starkville's Sunday Funday, Creep Crochet has shown people that this is not your grandma's crochet. Chambers sells her art at the IDEA shop in Starkville, Relics Antique Market in Tupelo and Southern Trash in Florence. Anyone looking to check out her art can find her on Instagram (@creep.crochet) and buy from her directly.

Joseph H. Macgown is another MSU student who is actively engaged in the local art community, along with his father, Joe Macgown, a local artist and researcher in the MSU Department of Entomology. Joseph H. Macgown studies art in its many forms through the program of interdisciplinary studies, known as a B.S.I.S degree. 

"I use oil pastels a lot, but I definitely like to experiment with a lot of different media," J. H. Macgown said. "Downtown there is a spray-painted mural that I did, so I've been getting into spray paint, as well, and ceramics. Just whatever is lying around that I can try out." 

On Instagram, J. H. Macgown's art can be found for viewing and purchasing under the username @joseph_h_macgown, and his art page on Facebook is under his name as well. 

"For people who are interested in what events are going on, I post about events on those pages as well. Since the pandemic has been happening, I have definitely been utilizing the social media presence a lot more to promote art. It has definitely made it more important to utilize whatever online resources you can," J. H. Macgown said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered the market for local art. Since art events have been canceled and artists cannot interact directly with potential customers, artists are having to innovate new ways to connect with their community. 

One creative way the Starkville Area Arts Council has devised to aid in maintaining the local art community is a stay-at-home art festival, posted online, which will feature videos of local artists' work. Using grant money, the SAAC is offering some assistance for local artists who have lost income due to the pandemic. For more information, check out their website

J. H. Macgown and his father both participated in an international online art exhibit, with many of the pieces being pandemic-themed. 

"Me and my dad are the only artists involved in this region; it is going to be cool. It just shows that there's all these opportunities popping up. A lot of people are coming up with really innovative ways of selling art and promoting art," J. H. Macgown said.

Charis Brightwell, an MSU grad with a B.S.I.S. degree, is a local potter. Brightwell, a stay-at-home mom of three, uses ceramic art to express herself and to connect with those around her. Taproot Pottery, the brand she created, highlights the importance of connection for humanity.

"Taproot is my expression for a desire to make beautiful and functional pieces for people and their homes. I started Taproot Pottery about two and a half years ago," Brightwell said.

After losing her first studio to a fire, Brightwell was able to not only replace her studio but also begin developing the business side of Taproot Pottery through the generous support of her family and community. 

"The business aspect began shortly after that. I started an Etsy shop and continued to use Instagram as my platform for growing an audience. Not long after things started up in the new studio, we had our second child. That summer I participated in the Starkville Community Market. It was tough juggling that with the kids," Brightwell said.

Brightwell has been simultaneously growing her business and raising her children with the support of her husband. Her determination to spread positivity through human connection shines through her art and mission statement for Taproot Pottery. Through platforms like Etsy and Instagram, Brightwell has seen steady growth for Taproot Pottery.

"I have done my best to try to keep up with the momentum and take opportunities to grow it even more and just pray daily, and throughout the day, that I would follow God's lead on keeping balance in all the things he wants me to be giving myself towards each day," Brightwell said.

Brightwell's art can be viewed and purchased on Etsy with the shop name TaprootPottery and on Instagram with the username @taproot_pottery. George-Mary's in downtown Starkville also sells Taproot Pottery pieces. Brightwell welcomes all engagement with her art and business.

"Sales are always great and appreciated, but honestly I love hearing from people on Instagram - what they like, what they want to see more of, new ideas, etc.," Brightwell said. 

Angela Latham is also a local potter, though her creations involve the art of candle-making as well. Latham, an MSU alumna and current art professor, crafts unique ceramic pieces and fills them with customized candles containing glitter. 

Latham reflects upon a love of art and design, which started at an early age as she would draw on her dolls and cut their hair. Throughout her life, Latham has followed her love of design down many alternate avenues.

"With each decision that I made, as far as career change, I was following my passion for design from one style of design to the next," Latham said. "It is not something that I ever would have expected; I did not think that I would be in the spot that I am right now. It was just from one passion to the next led me here." 

Alongside a freelance graphic design business called Angela Latham Designs, Latham operates Uniq, LLC, which offers a variety of ceramic designs filled with customizable, refillable candles. 

"The goal is always to have it where it's unique, and the tagline is actually no two are alike. I always want it to be something different and unique to that one person who purchases it, so each piece is a little different from the next. That's normal with pottery, period," Latham said.

Latham offers some advice for those looking to stay connected with the local art community during this time.

"Be willing to actually shop online because a lot of times with art, people want to actually go in and see and feel and touch items. I also like to feel and touch things that I purchase, but be willing and open-minded about going online and being able to support us that way, since obviously there's no gallery or store to walk into like normal," Latham said.

Latham intends to develop an online gallery for Uniq, so her ceramic and candle work can continue during the pandemic. Uniq offers many options for those looking for a custom and unique piece of art.  Her work can be viewed and purchased through her website and also on Instagram @uniqllc.

All of these local artists positively contribute to the Starkville community through their work. Whether it be purchasing their art or sharing social media pages, any support makes a difference for the artists and the art community. 

"When you are able to support a local artist, it directly impacts the lives of people you know," Chambers said. "When you support a local artist, it gives back to the community in a way and helps the local artists expand their businesses."

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