EMMA KNOWLTON LYTLE lived life (1910-2000) devoted to art, creativity and communication.
The range of her artwork includes painting, sculpture, film, photographs and poetry; all were used to record life in her native Mississippi Delta and to give a voice to her deep convictions. She was a pathfinder, peacemaker and mystic in the sense that her deep reverence for all life — Black and white — was reflected in not only her daily actions, but through her artwork.
The Baptism paintings became possible because of her trusted and lifelong friendship with Reverend Thomas Bronner. Over the decades he invited her to attend his church baptisms on Stamps Lake and the Bogue Phalia in Perthshire, Mississippi.
The bronze portrait sculptures depict Delta citizens, friends, family, faith; the Assemblage sculptures (not shown on this site) were created from abandoned and broken farm equipment found in the fields; the Clothesline paintings were inspired by colorful clothes drying on lines across the Delta and then transformed into abstract symbols of faith.
A selection of Lytle’s poems would include a range from free-verse to her sonnet series, Bring Some Truth. (Two poems on this site are from this series.) Her stated goal in the series was to write her life story in sonnets like a journal.
Lytle’s award winning documentary films, Raising Cotton and Mule Races, (1938 – 1941), are now preserved as part of the Southern Media Archives in the Center for Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi at Oxford. They also received honors from the Women’s Film Restoration Fund. Raising Cotton was shown at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
Lytle exhibited widely in juried exhibitions: the Annual of the Art Institute, Chicago, Illinois, 1957 and in the Artist Members Exhibit of Pen Women, Mississippi Competition, 1985, Greenwood, Mississippi. Lytle received first place awards in several juried exhibitions: National League of American Pen Women Mid-administration Show, 1983; Cottonlandia Museum Competition, 1984; the Trustmark of Greenwood Award, 1987, (Father and Son). Please note some of her artworks are a part of the permanent collection of Cottonlandia Museum — now named Museum of the Mississippi Delta, Greenwood, Mississippi.
Lytle’s solo exhibitions included: The Center for the Study of Southern Culture, University of Mississippi, Oxford, 1982; Delta State University, Cleveland, Mississippi, 1986 and 2000.
A Magna Cum Laude graduate of Radcliffe (Harvard) College, 1932, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in Law and International Relations, Lytle’s career as an artist began almost a decade later in the 1940s when she first studied painting with George Parker in Massachusetts, took miscellaneous classes at the Dallas Art Institute and private study of sculpture with Leon Koury in Greenville, Mississippi. In 1945 she also studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois.
Lytle was married to Jack Rose Humphreys of Greenwood, Mississippi until widowed in 1940. In 1945 she married Stuart Bruce Lytle of Chicago, Illinois. She was the mother of three (Eleanor, Robert, Suze) and the grandmother of five.
Emma Lytle was also honored at the Sesquicentennial Celebration of Bolivar County, Mississippi, June 29, 1986, Great River Road State Park, Rosedale, Mississippi as Honorary Artist of Bolivar County.
Given a lifetime of inspiration initially sparked as a child when she saw original art for the first time, Lytle wanted to share this experience with her fellow Mississippi Delta residents, especially children. She created an ambitious program and shared her art and that of other artists by mounting exhibits in even the tiniest Delta town libraries such as Shelby, Drew, and Gunnison.
Rachel Brown’s article in the Bolivar Commercial in September of 1987, “Women I’d Love to be Like” featured Emma Lytle:
A free spirit. Creative. Vivid. Fearless.
Full of ineffable secrets.
Proprietor to a mysterious fountain of youth.
An earthly pilgrim in search of heavenly Truth.
On canvas and in sculpture, for years she has recorded
the deceptively mundane events
of the countryside surrounding her home.
With a keen eye of an out-of-town reporter
she plucks a moment
from time and gives it shape and form.
Her renderings of the Stamps Lake baptizing have immortalized a tradition of Black Delta life.
“The real adventure of life”, she says, “is in your mind.”
I want to be like Emma Lytle…
. . .
NOTE: This digital page is, in part, an except from the book:
Awake: Art of the Mississippi Delta, Emma Knowlton Lytle
The purpose of MississippiEmma.com is to present the artwork of Emma Knowlton Lytle for your enjoyment.
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