October 3, 2023

Preserving the Home and Studio of L.V. Hull, An “Unusual Artist"

In May 2023, community members, friends, and preservation advocates gathered in Kosciusko, Mississippi to celebrate an incredible milestone. The L.V. Hull Home and Studio had been chosen for inclusion on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list, a “galvanizing tool for historic preservation” that highlights vital preservation projects across the country.

Kosciusko rarely gets mentioned, let alone honored, side-by-side with some of the country’s major metropolises. “It’s a town of 7,000 people in Mississippi, a state that is pretty constantly written off,” noted Annalise Flynn, an independent curator and advocate for the preservation of the site, “To get to be on the same playing field as initiatives in Philadelphia and Seattle is well-deserved recognition for this special place.”

View of a group standing with a banner in front of the home of the L.V. Hull Home.

photo by: National Trust for Historic Preservation

Community members gathered to mark the listing of the L.V. Hull Home and Studio on America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2023.

The ‘Unusual Artist’

The center of the celebration was L.V. Hull, the self-proclaimed “unusual artist” who was a fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Born in McAdams, Mississippi, a few miles from Kosciusko, Hull bought an unassuming 900-square-foot home in 1974 with $7,000 she had earned working in domestic service. Immediately, she began to fill it with her art. Hull liked to turn eclectic, everyday objects into colorful masterpieces. She painted buttons, buckets, old Easter baskets, and discarded tires, with bold reds, blues, yellows, and blacks, often further decorated with whimsical designs of dots and dashes. Even her porch and bathroom sink received such treatment. Her home and yard became part studio, part canvas, and part gallery, where she would invite neighbors and passers-by to visit, admire her art, and tell stories.

Those visitors sometimes included family members of artist and documentarian Yaphet Smith, who remembers meeting Hull while visiting his grandmother as a child. “She made a deep impression on me as a kid,” he said. In 2001, while looking for a subject for a documentary, he thought of her and reached out about interviewing her. Over the next three years, he spoke with Hull, her friends, and her family, and became immersed in her art. The resulting film, Love is a Sensation, is now in post-production.

L.V. Hull Home & Studio, Kosciusko, Mississippi. Filmmaker Yaphet Smith and artist L.V. Hull stand together on the path to Hull’s home and studio. Smith is partnering with other advocates to create the L.V. Hull Legacy Center in Kosciusko.

photo by: Milton Burt

Yaphet Smith and L.V. Hull at her home and studio.

Preserving L.V. Hull’s Legacy

After Hull’s death in 2008, a group of other interested locals worked to move individual art pieces to the Kosciusko City Hall.

“And then I opened a can of worms,” said Annalise Flynn, who manages the Kohler Foundation’s SPACES Archive, which is dedicated to studying, documenting, and advocating for the preservation of art environments. SPACES had a record in their database about Hull and her art, but Flynn wanted to learn more. “I am very interested in prioritizing work by women artists and built-environment creators,” she said. “[L.V. is] also from Mississippi, where I'm from, so she checked a lot of boxes for me.”

After further investigation, Flynn discovered that Hull had passed away and learned about the status of her art. Eventually, the Kohler Foundation took on the project to clean, conserve, and catalog the whole collection, and then gifted it back to the Arts Foundation of Kosciusko, a new organization created to steward the collection and build a legacy center dedicated to L.V. Hull.

L.V. Hull Home & Studio, Kosciusko, Mississippi. Artist L.V. Hull sits on her bed surrounded by her artwork and collection at her home and studio.

photo by: Bruce West

L.V. Hull at her home and studio in Kosciusko, Mississippi.

Smith, who now owns Hull's home, is working with the Keysmith Foundation and the Arts Foundation of Kosciusko to preserve Hull’s house. Hull was extremely proud that she was able to purchase the home, and understood the independence it gave her as directly responsible for her art. “She didn’t just have ‘a room of one’s own,’ but a house of one’s own,” said Smith, evoking Virginia Woolf’s famous essay about the structural inequalities that women artists must overcome. No one could tell Hull how to paint her walls or decorate her yard, and no one could take away the stability that homeownership granted her—all the more important as a working-class Black woman in midcentury America. This pride and fierce independence was literally embedded in her art via the slogans she so seemed to love. “Mind your business, thank you,” her mailbox reminded passers-by.

View of a woman standing next to a mailbox with some writing.

photo by: William S. Arnett photographer, 1997 in the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Photographic Collection #20491, Southern Folklife Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

L.V. Hull with her mailbox in front of her home.

‘What Happens Here Is Valuable’

Hull’s house isn’t an architectural treasure (in terms of scale or building style), but that is part of what makes preserving it so special. “[The L.V. Hull Home and Studio] [will be] one of the only preserved homes of a Black women visual artists in the country,” said Valerie Balint, director of the National Trust’s Historic Artist Homes and Studios Program (HAHS). An early advocate for preservation of the site, Balint hopes that it can become part of the HAHS network, which preserves sites associated with American artists.

As Smith said, “It’s in a Black neighborhood with homes that weren’t particularly highly valued, but [Hull] ended up creating this beacon for the world and attracted people from all over. She said, ‘what happens here is valuable.’ “

L.V. Hull Home & Studio, Kosciusko, Mississippi. The home and studio of African American artist L.V. Hull (1942-2008) has been unoccupied since Hull’s death in 2008.

photo by: Yaphet Smith

Exterior of L.V. Hull's Home and Studio.

Along with raising money to preserve the house itself, the Arts Foundation Kosciusko is developing a creative campus, called the L.V. Hull Legacy Center, that would include exhibition spaces for Hull’s work and that of other artists, housing for an artist-in-residence, programs for children, and community spaces for family reunions, concerts, organizational meetings, and more. The Center will be a celebration of L.V. and her community. “It’s important that we share L.V.’s story and Black people’s stories from the inside-out,” said Smith.

Through versatile, community-driven spaces, the Arts Foundation will also commemorate what Smith calls “the southern art of visiting.” Smith said, “coming to visit with L.V. was its own kind of artistic experience. One visitor depicted in the forthcoming documentary observed that, 'it was hard to tell where the art starts and L.V. begins. She had some eggs boiling on the stove, and it was like that was part of the whole thing.' It was part of the art.” At the Legacy Center, visitors will have the opportunity to share or record oral histories, receive tours from community hosts, or spend time with themselves or each other in structured and unstructured ways.

“We want to find ways to mine the ways that people can connect with each other and themselves.” Thanks to a grant from the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund in 2023, donations from supporters, and gifts from other sources, they have currently raised enough money to take some initial steps to preserve Hull's home and renovate the site that will become the Legacy Center.

Cake with a quote from the artist L.V. Hull.

photo by: National Trust for Historic Preservation

Exterior of L.V. Hull's Home and Studio.

Though the Legacy Center is not expected to open until late 2024, that sense of connection was already on display during the springtime celebration, “There was so much energy and excitement from every facet of the community in Kosciusko,” says Smith. “There were dignitaries from the Mississippi Museum of Art, and the Mississippi Arts Commission, and the National Trust. And they were all converging because of L.V.”

In December 2023 The Arts Foundation of Kosciusko received $315k from the Mississippi Arts Commission’s Building Fund for the Arts which will be used to begin renovations on the L.V. Hull Legacy Center campus which is scheduled to open in 2024.

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Rebecca Ortenberg is a public historian, digital storyteller, and wrangler of people and ideas. She has served as the managing editor for Lady Science, a magazine and podcast about women in the history of science, and has written for the Science History Institute's Distillations magazine. Though she has adopted Philadelphia as her home, she will always be a West Coaster at heart.

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