Saul Haymond, Sr. of Pickens, Mississippi is a self-taught painter who has been documenting life in the African American community in Holmes County for over forty years. Born in 1947 on a plantation near Ebenezer, Haymond’s first exposure to painting and the art world came through a mail-order book he received that featured the paintings of Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. He began copying these artists’ work, tracing them on the ground in the dirt.
Even though Haymond’s family didn’t have money for art supplies, the young artist began his work by drawing on grocery sacks, using charcoal from the fireplace. His stepfather felt that the drawings were a waste of paper and would often use them as kindling in the family’s fireplace. Because of this, Haymond resorted to working on his artwork under the house. After working with charcoal for a while, he found a dime and was able to buy a watercolor set, beginning his experiments with color.
When he was seventeen, Haymond left home to join a Job Corps initiative that took him to Maryland. He was able to take some painting classes while in the Job Corps and had the first public exhibition of his work in Maryland. According to Haymond, a number of political figures from the Washington D.C. area (including former ambassador Sargent Shriver) purchased his paintings through the show.
After completing his time in the Job Corps, Haymond returned to Mississippi and went to work as a farm laborer. However, he continued to paint in the evenings. It was during this time period that he began making paintings of African American workers in the cotton fields. Some of Haymond’s friends initially objected to the paintings, feeling that he should not depict these scenes since they were depressing. However, the artist felt strongly that the paintings depicted the history of African Americans in the Delta and continued the work.
Since then, much of Haymond’s work focuses on scenes from his own life and those of his neighbors and friends. Some of his favorite topics include former homes, local stores, workers picking cotton, and landscapes of the places where he used to live and work. Because of his emphasis on local subjects in his work, Haymond keeps busy creating paintings commissioned by other Holmes County residents. Using photographs and stories from his clients, he creates paintings that depict scenes in the history of the community or within local families.
Initially, Haymond’s work was only known within Holmes County, but he began receiving greater recognition in the 1990s, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Mississippi Arts Commission. His work also began to be exhibited outside of the state, including an exhibition at the Atelier A/E Gallery in New York. He was also one of the artists featured in the Mississippi Museum of Art’s 1999 Mississippi Invitational show. He retired from work as a farm laborer in November 2004 and now devotes himself full-time to his artwork.