Jeanne Seagle

Celebrating its sixth year, the Mojo of Midtown Awards once again have a strong Cooper-Young connection. The awards, which go to organizations, individuals and businesses that make Midtown vibrant and unique, will be given out at a ceremony at Playhouse on the Square on Wednesday, April 1.  

Artist and Cooper-Young resident Karen ‘Bottle’ Capps created the original award — a Mojo Hand, custom designed to represent the contributions of each recipient — in 2015, and she is back this year with fresh ideas. 

Among the honorees for 2020 is the Memphis College of Art, where Karen studied. 

Obviously, the story of MCA this year is bittersweet.  In the spring, the college is closing after eighty-one years, a victim of multiple causes, including “declining enrollment and real estate debt.”

Jeanne Seagle, a long-time Cooper-Young resident and widely revered painter, first visited the school (then known as the Art Academy) on a field trip from Jackson, Mississippi with her high school art class in 1965.  What she saw was “just the most wonderful thing,” Jeanne says.

“There were beatniks playing bongo drums and wearing goatees and girls in leotards,” she recalls. “I was in heaven.”

Two years later Jeanne returned. By then the beatniks were called hippies, but they weren’t much different. 

“People like me,” she says. “A campus full of non-conformist, creative, nerdy, artistic people.” 

As Jeanne and her classmates, like others before them, graduated from the Art Academy, they spread out across Memphis, America, and the world, where they made careers and reputations as commercial artists and illustrators, graphic designers, sculptors, potters, and painters. In talking about those heady days Jeanne rattled off a list of artists connected with MCA, a Who’s Who of Memphis artists: Burton Callicott, Ted Rust, Ted Faiers, Dolph Smith.

And then there are artists who found a home in Cooper-Young. Among them sculptors John McIntire, Mark Nowell, and Carroll Todd, painters Mollie Riggs and Jeri Ledbetter, and graphic artist Jerry House. 

Memphis, with its history and culture and style, has always attracted artists but Cooper-Young has more than its share. It’s always been a special neighborhood, Jeanne says.

“It’s cheap, with a lot of activity,” she says. “An interesting mix of houses and streets.”

And characters. 

But, surrounded by such growth and change, she says, “I never thought it would be like it is now.”

As for the closing of the Memphis College of Art, Jeanne doesn’t understand how the city itself or a business with a history of supporting the arts or even a major art collector could not have stepped in to save it. A lot of people she knows are “angry and scared.” Angry at what happened, scared for the future when young artists will finish high school and look elsewhere to be trained. And fearful of the loss of the art that they might create.

The Memphis College of Art will receive a Mojo of Midtown Award along with the Memphis Zoo & Aquarium, non-profit activists Kathy and Kelly Fish, neighborhood mobilizer and activist Emily Trenholm, and business owners Adrienne Roddy and Jeremy Feinstone. 

The Mojo ceremony takes place on April 1st at Playhouse on the Square.  The Mojos begin at 6 p.m. with food, live music and adult beverages. Tickets are on sale now at the Mojo of Midtown Eventbrite site.

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