Pine Hill history inspires Wiggins artist

A homegrown artist’s oil painting will be the featured artwork on the annual Pine Hill Festival’s promotional poster this spring.

Festival organizers commissioned Wiggins-native Joy Jennings to paint a scene of Pine Hill, after seeing some of her earlier artwork based on the town that shaped her childhood.

“It was really a fun project,” Jennings said. “I am a longtime resident, so there are a lot of memories in there.”

Growing up, her family lived closed to Pine Hill, so she often visited the area. She even saw movies at the Straube Theatre.

“That’s where all the action was,” Jennings said.

She can still map many of the long-gone businesses of Wiggins with her memories. Her earliest memories of Pine Hill include shopping at the dime store and eating at Dugan’s Cafe, which she remembers for its wonderful food and saloon-style doors.

“I mainly remember a lot of wing-tip shoes—That was the main view of toddler,” Jennings said, laughing.

Once she was commissioned to paint Pine Hill, it did not take her long to bring some of her childhood to life. 
Her cityscape of Pine Hill illustrates the center of downtown from its peak crossroad, looking at pedestrians as they walk toward the railway. The depiction would stick out for any local, but Jennings kept the crowd just abstract enough so the painted people could be anyone in anytime.

She captures Wiggins with a deep, whimsical color palette of purples, pinks and blues.

“I’m very impressionistic,” she said.

A lifelong Francophile, the French artists like Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Manet inspire her artistic style.

Although she loved her time in Stone County, she was ready to spread her wings as soon as she could. She wanted to be a dancer, and she wanted to travel the world, seeing herself against a Parisian scene as opposed to a familiar downtown. 
After Jennings graduated high school, she majored in French at Losuiaina State University and later studied literature at the Sorbonne in Paris.
Jennings has visited France several times and visited the Louvre, the d’Orsay, the L’Orangerie, the Rodin Museum, where she saw many classic Impressionist masterpieces in person.

“I was very influenced by the work I saw, especially the Impressionists,” Jennings said.

She later earned a master of arts in French from the University of Southern Mississippi before teaching high school language classes in Long Beach. She also taught in Stone County for a short time.

Jennings returned to Wiggins in 1992 with her husband. The couple bought and remodeled a home that once belonged to her grandparents, close to where she grew up.

“I just live with a lot of memories,” Jennings said.

She paints in a studio at her home. Jennings was exposed to art every time she visited her maternal grandmother and aunt in Philadelphia, Mississippi. They were both artists.
“When I visited my grandmother’s house, it smelled a lot like oil paint and turpentine, but it also smelled like homemade biscuits and fried chicken, like everybody else’s grandma’s house,” she said.
She later introduced painting into her classrooms to expose students to language and culture in a more engaging way. Soon after, she started painting more and more.
Her ballet experience also helped develop her artistic instinct.

“I just saw art as a dance on canvas,” Jennings said.

Though Jennings has fulfilled her dream of traveling the world, her humble roots still inspire her brushstrokes.

“Wiggins will always be a part of me, and a good part,” she said.

When people see her artwork promoting Pine Hill Festival, Jennings hopes it inspires civic pride.

Jennings wants people to see themselves on the streets of Pine Hill, to feel connected to the historic bedrock underneath the buildings.

She also hopes that everyone will see future possibilities for the area. 
She remembers Pine Hill as the bustling heart of the community. If people recognize and develop the potential, she thinks Pine Hill could thrive once again.

“I think there is a lot of potential for Pine Hill if we market that,” Jennings said.