Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s building opened in 1983. It stood out along Interstate 55 not necessarily because of it girth, but because of its location. At the time, County Line Road was considered the country, many miles north of downtown Jackson. There were no shopping centers or restaurants.
Also, at the time, a little known artist was commissioned to create seven paintings to decorate the halls and offices of the Farm Bureau building. After 36 years, artist and paintings were reunited.
“I’m excited to see them,” said Albert Smathers, a professor in the Department of Art at Mississippi College. “They look like the day I painted them. They still look good and they look better than I thought they did. I’ve grown now through three other decades of painting. It’s funny that you think you get better, and I guess I have, but these still look pretty good to me.”
When moving one of the large paintings into his office, Farm Bureau Insurance CEO Jerry Keating decided to find out more about the artist who signed each one. To his surprise, he found Albert Smathers living and working nearby.
“A former employee of Farm Bureau – Mr. Jimmy Beall – worked here. He knew that with the new construction being built (the would be in need of art),” Smathers said. “He put me in touch with Hugh Arant. We met with the then president and after talking about them, they thought my work fit with Farm Bureau. It seemed to be a really good match for them and they purchased them.”
Smather’s records don’t include the paintings Farm Bureau commissioned from him, but the paintings seem to reveal what he could not find or remember. Each painting depicts landscapes from parts of Mississippi. They showcase scenes on a rural road or the sun setting on a long day while farmers prepare the field for planting. The watercolors encompass many places in Mississippi and at the same time nowhere in particular.
“As an artist grows, we learn to paint from what we know and not just what something is looking like. We learn that I can move this. I can put this in. I can include this. I don’t have to paint exactly every little thing that’s there,” Smathers said.
As a Farm Bureau member and someone who’s family still farms, Smathers said the rural life woven in his upbringing can still be seen in his pieces today.
“I wanted to get that whole tree in there and the feeling of its enormity,” he said. “I’m painting the cattle that I’ve grown up working with and the little paths and roads that we have in Mississippi. A picture always needs a little water in it, so most of them have a little water somewhere. They give reflection. I wanted people to feel the grandness of our trees.”