Brookhaven physician Kim Sessums infuses new energy into Mississippi School of the Arts students

Published 7:54 am Sunday, January 29, 2017

If you go:

The Retrospective exhibition reception”Looking back at 40 years of Dr. Kim Sessums” will be Tuesday, Feb. 7, at 6 p.m. at Enochs Hall.

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Excited voices echoed along Chippewa Street recently as a gaggle of Mississippi School of the Arts visual juniors made their way to renowned artist Dr. Kim Sessums’ studio. Nearly 20 students, two teachers and one doctor gathered for the group’s third meeting, this time to focus on pastels and transferring.

“Though it was 40 years ago, I remember being where they are,” he said after the class. “Feeling like no one could understand what I was trying to do.”

Taking that sentiment, he started class by sharing his own struggles with drawing. He held a picture demonstrating the drawing that finally made the idea of pulling out shadows and highlights click. This week, they would be following his technique of using transfer paper to achieve the same goal for each of the students.

“It’s not about making them draw like me,” Sessums said. “It’s about showing them techniques and mediums and for them to have their own take.”

This two-hour-a-week class is part of MSA’s artist in residence program, a goal Executive Director Suzanne Hirsch has strived for since she first arrived.

“We hadn’t been able to do anything long run,” she said. “Last year, I felt like we were ready to start embarking on the that idea.”

She knew she wanted to start with Mississippi artists, partly to support the thriving artist community in our state and partly to inspire students. Once Hirsch believed the school was ready, the first step was to find the perfect artist. Sessums, who served on the MSA advisory board when it was first formed, seemed like the perfect fit.

“Frankly, I think all local artists should be connected to the school in some way because that’s such a treasure,” she said. “To see a person who is a master of all these types of art is exciting, and he’s literally in our backyard.”

Although a few years had lapsed since Sessums’ involvement with the school, he was quick to hop on board. They quickly agreed to a class two hours a week.

“I’m so thankful for Dr. Sessums to be so generous with is time,” she said. “He doesn’t have to do that, and he’s called upon a lot in the community.”

Students are as excited as Hirsch to have forged the connection with Sessums.

“They’re learning from this man, who is an amazing artist and is well-known nationally,” she said. “They really are listening. They really are sponges. I know they’re enjoying it because they wouldn’t talk about it so freely. It really has infused an energy into our campus.”

Morgan Bailey said the entire experience has proven eye-opening so far.

“It’s a good learning experience to try something new,” she said. “It’s been very helpful because I’ve only used the basic.”

Jakob Graves said the class has proven useful because they have access to a more techniques a tools, such as the pastel pencils they used Tuesday.

“It’s also good to be under another artist’s guidance and see a different viewpoint,” he said.

Although he was quick to sing the praises of his MSA instructors, Maurice Colvert for his strong foundational work and Kelly Walters for her ability to draw out students’ creativity.

In the future, MSA hopes to continue hosting artists in residence. Now that Elizabeth Cottage has been completed, the school can host the artist at a lower cost. However, the continuation of the program is entirely dependent upon funding.

“You don’t want to take advantage,” she said. “We are paying the artists, but it’s a fraction of the cost.”

She also hopes to build upon the project and commission the artist, whether visual, literary, dance, etc., to create a piece. Then, when the piece is performed or on display as part of a collection, it will list MSA as the commissioner.

“MSA, Brookhaven and the state is represented beyond right here,” she said. “That’s where we want to get to.”

The school is currently pursuing grants to assist with the continuation of the program and their website,, says anyone willing to contribute to the guest residency program may contact Hirsch at 601-823-1300 or by emailing