Humility goes a long way. So does being a character.

For world-renowned artist William Dunlap, there’s a bit of both at play. The Webster County born artist, arts commentator and educator has had a career that has spanned more than three decades. His paintings, sculpture and constructions are found in places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, IBM Corporation, Federal Express and United States Embassies throughout the world, among many others. As we gleefully note his body of work and notoriety, his quick wit helps him respond: “well, I’m not trying to keep it a secret.”

Dunlap is a born and bread Mississippian, a product of Mathiston to be exact. He still maintains a family place there as part of his trifecta of studios and work spaces (the other two are in McClean, Virginia and Coral Gables, Florida.) Speaking of his home state, Dunlap says he’s “gone away but never gotten away.” A 1969 University of Mississippi graduate, Dunlap returns “home” as often as he can. “I’ll be back later this month,” he says.

He pops up on the Fondren radar for many reasons, the least of which is his role in tomorrow night’s opening reception of juried art at The Cedars, a first of its kind show for the historic property. But it’s a role he’s not necessarily comfortable playing. “I have a trepidation in judging other people’s art,” he says by phone from Virginia. “I got such great joy from seeing so much work of such high caliber.” Dunlap was asked to judge over 300 entries for the exhibition. With over 100 pieces in the mix, Dunlap says he hated to narrow it down. “I’ve shown there and knew how much space we had to work with,” he says. “I still had to cut some I was fond of.”

Dunlap adds a word of caution: “Whether you were picked or not, no one should take (my judging) too seriously either way,” he tell us. “I saw a dozen or so who should have one man shows. The quality is that good and consistent; the art’s there.” When we press for names, he laughs. “Don’t get me into name calling. Art standards are to individual tastes.”

He wraps up the call by making an observation of the artists, simply based on the art he is asked to judge: “I was charmed with such variety and sense of execution. It says a lot about the intellectual health of the community.”

Though Dunlap won’t be present for the opening reception, he will make it by. “I plan to see it at the end of the month.”

Photo: Elmo Thamm

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