Tut Riddick

“I believe in reincarnation and spent one of my lifetimes in Paris and in another I was probably black. Some of my best painting are of black people, I loved painting Josephine Baker. I grew up in York, Alabama. My father was a lawyer and I had an unusual childhood, sometimes I related more to black people than white people. Black people came in our front door and I was blessed. I have a rich life with a diversity of friends. It is about being compassionate. We have to hang together. I am like Virginia Wolf, ‘I don’t care what you do in bed as long as you don’t scare the horses.’ I came to Mobile to be the debate coach at Murphy High School. They couldn’t afford me to just do that, asked me to teach art and literature at Glendale High School in Prichard. I started teaching art and found out I was an artist. I knew I was different when I was little, but I went to school for debate, not art. I later went to professional art school in New York and spent a month there every year. They told me I should move to New York. My teacher told me if you are going to stay in the South, you should paint black people. No one has done it well and you can. He was right. It became my focus. I stayed where I was needed and where I could make a difference.”

“I wrote books about York. I was into photography and did “People to Know” and “Monuments of York.” It led to starting the Coleman Center for the Arts in York. My husband, Harry, told me when I came back from photography school don’t do what I do for money. I had time to write books because I wasn’t taking commercial jobs. It takes a strong man to see who you are supposed to be and to encourage it. I have kept growing and art keeps me young. You don’t do the same thing over again. I don’t want to repeat myself. I am also a collector and believe in supporting young artists. One of my employees wanted to work for me for free if I would teach her how to paint. She is not working for free, but I have been very happy to teach her. I am here for people like that to help encourage them and bring out the artist in them. I also have a mail ministry. I wrote 1,030 letters last year. I try to send my grandchildren a letter a month. I try to lift people up. I am 88 now when I was young, I had older friends and now that I am old, I have younger friends. It really doesn’t matter.”

“Amos Kennedy came to York and we supported him and kept him on his feet. He was doing prints and selling them for $10. He lived in one of my buildings for six years. We helped him when his car broke down. He got better and better. He now has a studio in Detroit and last year he got $50,000 Stallings prize for being the greatest craftsman in the US. He got more this year for being named the greatest bookmaker in the US. He is one of our sons. He calls himself the wayward son. He has workshops all over this country.”

“People come here to learn and I am here to inspire people and help them to find themselves. If I hadn’t gone through all of these stages, how would I understand anyone else? Even the pain makes your richer. I end up mothering people, but they need it. Everyone needs more than one mother. One mother can’t give you everything.”

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