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personalities: dr.

kim sessums

j. kim sessums
a study of character & style

T The birth of a child and the


creation of art may seem to be
unrelated events, yet they share
participate in such moving
occasions on almost a daily
basis for more than 20 years.
work in my art in my life and
my schedule,” he said. “It helps
to keep me grounded.”
an amazing connection in that While most of his days and Some of the well-known
both are capable of evoking nights are devoted to his family pieces that have kept him
emotions from deep within the and working diligently as an “grounded” include bronze
human spirit. obstetrician/gynecologist, portrait busts of several
Passion and enthusiasm, Sessums still finds time to American icons, including
combined with an unyielding express himself artistically Eudora Welty, Andrew Wyeth
determination, have allowed through writing, drawing, and Billy Graham.
Dr. J. Kim Sessums, of painting, and sculpting. In order to incorporate his
Brookhaven, to witness and “I had to figure a way to love for art in his daily duties,

SSTORY BY KIM WINDMILLER


PHOTOS AND ART COURTESY J. KIM SESSUMS

42 • south mississippi scene


“Frying Chicken”
Print (pencil)
he created a mobile studio that allows him to work when a
window of time opens up, even if it’s only for 15 minutes.
Sometimes Sessums finds time to sketch or write down
an idea while waiting on a patient to deliver at the hospital
or if a patient cancels an appointment at the office
(Brookhaven OB-GYN Associates).
Laughing, he admits there’s probably even some
sketches on patient charts because he had to jot down an
idea as it came to him.
“I guess I’m a bit compulsive. When I get something on
my mind, I’m gonna find a way to work it into my sched-
ule,” he said.
The remarkable drive Sessums possesses can be traced
back to his childhood in a rural area near Forrest,
Mississippi.
By the age of six, he had survived the separate deaths of
his parents, losing his father in a car accident, and losing
his mother to cancer. Sessums and his brother Kevin, who
was eight at the time, and their sister Karole, who was only
four, continued their childhood with their grandparents,
Malcolm and Joyce Britt.
Looking back, Sessums realizes the task of taking on 3
small children was certainly a great sacrifice, but one that
his grandparents embraced whole-heartedly.
“My grandfather and grandmother were a great influ-
ence on me from the standpoint that they lived for others,”
he said. “They denied themselves and their desires, in
order to meet the needs of others.”
His grandparents always encouraged Sessums and his
siblings to express themselves. The children did so by
using their vivid imaginations in everything they did, first
in their play, and later in various artistic ways.
His brother is now a journalist, living in New York, and
working on his second book. His sister is an art dealer,
who recently organized the exhibition “Backyards and
Beyond,” a tribute to Mississippi Gulf Coast residents sur-
viving after Hurricane Katrina.
Sessums believes one of the greatest contributions to his
creativity arose from “overcoming boredom and loneliness

Clockwise from Top Left


“Good News,” Portrait of Billy Graham, bronze
“Mugwump,” Civil War, bronze
“Vicksburg Campaign (Final Design),” Civil War, bronze
“The Road Less Traveled,” Andrew Wyeth, bronze

south mississippi scene • 45


Left Photo
“Nettie May,” Print (pencil)

Bottom Photo
“Metal Fan Rocker,” Print (pencil)
in a small town.” It led him to al chords” that are first said Sessums.
the “unexpected joy of studying explored in his ongoing journal, They have four children:
the character and form of those in which he records his Jake, 25; Joey, 24; Stewart; 21;
around him.” thoughts and delves further and Price, 19.
Whether black, white, old or into each work to “discover a After graduating from med-
young people, their every deeper connection” to his own ical school, Sessums trained 2
nuance was committed to his life. Thus begins his creative years in New Orleans and 2
memory and later recorded in process. years in Jackson. By 1988, he
written journals. Eventually, As the artist himself has and long-time friend Dr. Steve
those childhood memories and noted, “All good art should Mills were looking for a place
emotions became pieces of visu- move us to a place deeper than to set up their practice in a
al art. the surface of our own exis- friendly small town.
His works include everything tence, revealing the human As fate would have it, many
from a 1977 sketch of his Aunt experience and prompting us to of the community leaders in
Gladys and a 1979 sketch of his discover how deep our own Brookhaven were looking to
grandfather sitting on his car- emotions go.” expand the medical facilities in
port, to a monumental sculptur- Sessums realized years ago the area, which were extremely
al tribute in the Vicksburg that he no longer needed to limited at the time.
National Military Park for search for his artistic style. “We looked at Brookhaven
African descendants who par- After a lifetime spent exploring and we felt it fit, even though
ticipated in the Vicksburg his creative instincts, it had there was a lot of work to be
Campaign. It is the only figura- found him. done,” remembered Sessums.
tive monument to honor the Following high school, his Now the clinic has grown to
Colored Troops in any Civil creative instincts first led him include 4 doctors who have
War park in America. to Mississippi State University’s delivered almost 10,000 babies.
Many of Sessums’ works por- architect program, which Sessums is grateful for the suc-
tray African-American life in helped him learn more about cess of the clinic, and how its
the South, something that has depth of field, but he didn’t feel success allows him to keep his
always intrigued him since he like he was meant to be an hobby alive.
was able to observe it firsthand architect. “I’m fortunate enough that I
as a child on his uncle’s cotton He switched colleges and can provide for my family and
farm. attended Belhaven, where he still have my art, but not feel
“There’s something about the played basketball and changed pressure to sell things,” he
character and the steadfastness his major to biology. During remarked.
of the farmhands,” he said, that time, he got a job working In 1996, Sessums had the
adding that it made him have a at a hospital and realized how honor of creating a bronze por-
true appreciation for the bless- much he enjoyed interacting trait bust of the renowned
ings in his life. with the patients. Sessums felt painter Andrew Wyeth, whose
Not only was he moved by “moved” and thus he started on career took off in 1937 when the
his constant artistic observa- the path toward a career in American realist painter and
tions, but he was also bothered medicine. regionalist artist was only 20
by them because it showed him He also discovered the love years old.
the reality that “life just isn’t of his life, Kristy, whom he’s Much of the detail work on
easy.” been married to for 30 years. the bust was done after Sessums
Sessums said famous or not, “She is what helps me get up in had the pleasure of being invit-
his subjects “all strike emotion- the morning and keep going,” ed to the studio and home of

south mississippi scene • 47


personalities: dr. kim sessums

the man who Sessums calls his it was to sit in the presence of Camp Shelby. Montgomery was
mentor, unknowingly to Wyeth. Pulitzer prize-winner Eudora and Army and National Guard
“Early on in life, I ran into Welty in her Jackson home as veteran, who died at the age of
the works of Andrew Wyeth, he completed her portrait bust. 85 in 2006.
and I think I was more When finished, Sessums A monumental public art
intrigued because there had to asked the witty writer what she commission, called Bearing One
be a story behind what he was thought of the bust. Her answer Another’s Burdens, was
doing,” he said. “It was such a was nonetheless characteristic unveiled and dedicated on Oct.
tremendous experience to of her unique style. 8, at the Pine Grove Treatment
speak with and spend time “I hesitate to offer an opinion Center in Hattiesburg.
with one of the legends of art. of my own likeness,” she said. His most recent work, an
It’s an opportunity I will never “Now, should you ask if I pre- over life-size full body portrait
forget.” fer strawberry or vanilla ice of College Football Hall of
The finished bronze, along cream, I could say, without Fame Coach John H. Vaught,
with a plaster casting, are now reservation, vanilla.” who served as head football
in the Wyeths’ private collec- In 1998, the Sessums spent 2 coach for 25 years at University
tion. days with evangelist Billy of Mississippi, leading teams to
The same year, Sessums was Graham in his North Carolina 6 Southeastern Conference
commissioned to create a por- mountain-top log cabin home, (SEC) titles and a share of 3
trait bust of Dr. Winfred Wiser, where Sessums completed the national championships, was
a surgical mentor and friend, only figurative portrait of unveiled Nov. 1, outside the
for the Winfred Wiser Women Graham. Vaught Hemingway Stadium.
and Infant Hospital on the cam- Sessums recently completed Despite maintaining a pri-
pus of the University Medical the portrait bust of the accom- vate studio environment at his
Center in Jackson. plished former U.S. Brookhaven home, with
The following year, Sessums Congressman from Mississippi, increasing curiosity and enthu-
was fortunate enough to meet the late G.V. “Sonny” siasm, more and more collec-
another artist who also greatly Montgomery. The life-size tors are discovering Sessums’
influenced his career, not only bronze is now installed at writing, drawing, painting and
with her award-winning writ- Mississippi State University, sculpting, as he creates works
ing, but also especially by her where Montgomery attended to be read, viewed and held.
black and white photography. college; and a second casting is
He remembers what a pleasure in the U.S. Military Museum at

Photo Clockwise Top Left


“Oldest Boy,” Giclee (pastel)
“Waiting for My Boy,” Giclee (pastel)
“Three Generations,” Pastel on sand coated paper

For more information about the artist or his work,


visit www.jkimsessums.com

48 • south mississippi scene