I pulled onto the old Hopson Plantation just outside of Clarksdale on a hot sun-baked June afternoon listening to strains of JB Lenior's "Down In Mississippi." As the dust clouds rose behind me, in front of me I saw a funky old cotton gin, an old fire engine, countless broken down agricultural relics, and tons of rusted hulks scattered about and that's not to mention all the little weather beaten shacks, lots of them all over. Turns out this is where I was staying, in a shack on the Hopson Plantation. I knew I wasn't in Antietam anymore. I'd arrived in the Mississippi Delta and knew immediately I was going to like it.

They say the Mississippi Delta starts on Catfish Row in Vicksburg and ends in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. This ancient alluvial plain is low, flat, hot, extremely fertile and completely enigmatic. It was once described as the last wilderness east of the Mississippi River. It's a tough place. Difficult. And one is quick to understand that the people here are inextricably intertwined with the land, always have been and you can still hear it in their grit-in-the-throat accent, accumulated no doubt, at the muddy intersection of the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers.

And that's why I came. I wanted to see if I could find any trace of what put that look into the eyes of my sculptures. Because my inspiration for those portraits was triggered by the music of these obscure Delta artists and how it makes me feel on the inside. In short, their portraits are my reaction to their Art their expressions are in essence, my own.

The Delta, in and of itself, seems like the last place on earth you would expect a new art form to emerge. So what is it about the Delta that produced these larger than life artists? These unfettered musicians who dared to play their own raw, emotionally charged music and play it with a near religious fervor? And why does their music stick in my mind like the Mississippi Delta mud sticks to my shoes?

Rich deep black dirt, blinding white cotton, and a cobalt blue sky. The black, white and blue are more than the colors of the Delta, they're also much of it's story. Last October, I watched infinite puffy white clouds streaming across an impossibly blue sky and it seemed like an artist's mock reflection of the earthbound inundation lying directly beneath. Of the church white cotton fields spread out and puffy against a sea of black dirt reaching to a far distant horizon. Each field defined only by the occasional cane break or cypress stand scattered in and around old river sloughs. From where I stood that day it looked like a pure white heaven... but it was not lost to me that for many souls who stood here long before was a pure white Hell.

However you come to see it, you can immediately recognize that the story of life here is tightly wrapped around the land. Or I should say the dirt, the black, sandy silt deposits from thousands of years of the great river overrunning it's banks. It's deep too, I could see by the banks of the Sunflower river that the soil here is at least 20ft deep. 20ft!

I have found the Delta to be one of those unique places on this earth that naturally defies definition from the outside. It's also a place that can grip you deeply on the inside and then like one of it's lazy meandering rivers, slowly work its way out, leaving only sticky deposits of uncertainty on your now muddied internal banks. It tends to stick with you that way and is very difficult to wash away.

And just like the music it has grown famous for, it's simplicity deceives it's depth and it remains inherently resistant to any alien scheme of organization outside of it's very own alluvial plain. And personally, I find many of these rare characteristics, very much to my liking. This place does not speak for itself..... it howls for itself.

I spent some time in northern New Mexico once and in addition to advancing my blacksmithing skills, I was introduced to Tai Chi and doing native style sweat lodges. I came away from there with the understanding that it was a spiritual place and that my spiritual awareness had been well exercised. I think of it even now as a place where the earth is very close to the heavens. Figuratively and literally. And ironically or not, I have also found the Delta a place with the enigmatic persuasion to deeply stir the stew of one's spirit.

In the Delta, it's all about being earth-bound... and they say that you can still hear the call of the soil in the sound of the Delta Blues. I think that's true, and will always be so. Here it feels much more like its about one's soul rather than one's consciousness.

And it's spiritual sure enough, but often the spirit is summoned in a last ditch effort to save one's sinful ass. And for people such as myself, luckily, this can be achieved even in a last minute situation. Like I always say, if you've GOT to make a's best to go with what seems to be working.

So I think that if New Mexico is crystals, sage, feathers and sweating profusely on a higher plain then the Delta is music, beer, more music, BBQ and sweating profusely gettin'-down.

What they both seem to achieve albeit from two completely different perspectives, is a thorough cleansing of one's inner shit an all out purge, the cleaning of the pipes.

I've come to believe that maybe it's not so important how you get out what you need to get out, as much as you just need to find a way to get it out. I highly recommend either method.

And in a perfect world, I'd get snot-flying drunk, eat BBQ and sweat like hell dancing my ass off for the duration of the Sunflower River Blues Fest...and then in due course... retreat to my backyard sweat lodge (NM's too far) for a few searing rounds of good old time salvation. Yeah, now that's what I'm talking about.

In the Delta, you can find your soul one minute....and lose it the very next. It's an understanding that seems perpetually close to the surface and temptations burn with the restlessness of found money in one's pocket. And the thin line between salvation and sin gets crossed easily and often because except for your soul, a person here may not have anything else to barter.

And if or when you get caught in that push and pull you can bet that things start to get very real when suddenly you realize it's YOUR soul (and ass) that's up for grabs.

Life here for the many has been and still is very difficult despite it's earthly abundance. When people suffer, they find ways to deal with it. Often they look inward to a larger understanding for the strength to keep on going.

Under very harsh conditions the spirit either withers and dies or it strengthens and blossoms. And in the Delta at least as far as I can tell, the spirit remains incredibly strong and the many blossoms born from that strength are looking....well.... (*) "OOO So Pretty"!

Still, in the many smiling faces I see here, there exists a strong undercurrent of uncertainty, a reminder perhaps of the daily struggle and the depth of heart required to overcome it.

That said, the people here are as warm as I've ever encountered, maybe the warmest. And as I have found in other places, it's the people with the least who are willing to give the most. Always. And so far, I have found the Delta to be a very giving place.

So I've come to understand a little bit about this truly enigmatic stretch of bottom land that gave birth to such an original and emotionally charged art form, but there is something deep here that I find truly extraordinary. And that's the magic ability of the Delta Blues to take difficult, melancholy feelings and bring self-acceptance and a deep personal connection to them.

Artistically. I understand that these Delta Bluesmen were perhaps some of the greatest original artists that have ever existed. I don't think they saw themselves so much as artists as showmen. But they ignored the limitations of the surrounding society. Their music was conceived around delivering raw emotion, not musical structure. And because emotions can and surely will run wild, the Delta Blues are just too emotionally (and I would add 'artistically') robust for the confines of written music.

And that is what I find so exceptional and so inspirational about the original Delta Bluesmen. Like all great Art, the original Delta Blues is about what's going on inside and getting it out. It's a spontaneous outpouring of the heart wailed out loudly by the tortured soul who belongs to it, all set to the deeply resonant rhythms of this impossibly fertile land.

I think that's what I've been seeing in the faces of my sculptures...Art born out of the need for self-expression without perimeters....and everything that comes with that, good and bad.

People creating unfiltered art with everything they've got. And in the end what makes Art powerful or not is it's ability to connect with our inner personal goo.

So even though their music may seem simple, it isn't, it's just that's what great artist's do...they make it seem simple.

I know I've just barely scratched the surface here and I also realize the Delta is not a place that gives up its secrets easily or quickly. And being from the 'outside' I'll never really understand the Delta as do those who live here, but it won't keep me from trying because I find the culture so wonderfully textured as well as being incredibly rich, colorful and sadly, quite tragic.

Just for the record... however its gets there, I do believe I can actually see that Delta grit in the faces of my sculptures as I create them. And in some very small way, that makes me feel connected here.

So for now, I guess I'll start the fire, rub down the ribs, tune up the ol guitar, crack open an icy cold one, contemplate the worth of my soul and then around midnight, out to the crossroads to see who shows up..., who knows? maybe I can make a deal.

-Scott Cawood
Hopson Plantation -6/15

(*) OOO So Pretty, refers to a floral shop of that name in Clarksdale whose proprietor, Shirley, attended my opening reception at the Delta Blues Museum and who made a point of letting me know just how much she appreciated having my work at the museum. Afterward, she actually flagged me down and invited me into her shop where she told me tales of her family and stories of Clarksdale. She is representative of the genuine, friendly and appreciative local folks I encountered while there.

L- Shirley-OOO So Pretty Flowers
R- DBM Director Shelley Ritter