Owners of work by the late, Ecru artist M.B. Mayfield are encouraged to bring their paintings to a screening of a documentary film celebrating the artist’s life.
Oxford filmmaker John Reyer Afamasaga will show his documentary “Door Ajar,” April 11, at 6 p.m., at Pontotoc First Baptist Church. The screening is sponsored by the Pontotoc County Historical Society, and members want anyone who has a Mayfield painting to bring it so that others may enjoy it for the evening.
“We hope to have the largest gathering of Mayfield’s work in one place since his passing,” said Historical Society Vice President Bob McGee. He and his wife, Claire, are the proud owners of a Mayfield piece titled “McDaniel’s Cotton Gin.”
Mayfield died in 2005, at the age of 82.
The event will offer a unique opportunity for those who love Mayfield’s work to share their treasures, McGee said, as well as to make new friends and appreciate the works that grace the homes and offices of others. He is not aware of any list of Mayfield’s paintings or where they are, McGee said, so the event might help establish a community of Mayfield art owners and aficionados.
Acclaimed author and former publisher of the Oxford Eagle, David Magee, who wrote a 2009 book titled “The Education of Mr. Mayfield,” will also be the screening.
Afamasaga’s documentary won Best Mississippi Feature at the Oxford Film Festival in February. The title refers to the janitor’s closet, inside the art department at Ole Miss. From 1950-51, more than a decade before James Meredith officially integrated the university, Mayfield sat in that closet, listening, through the open door, drawing, painting, and following along, because he could not sit with the other students. Mayfield thus became, in one sense, Ole Miss’s first, black student.
An untitled painting of Mayfield’s, depicting a pond baptism, hangs in the fellowship hall at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in New Albany. The artist attended Mass there, after converting to Catholicism later in life, and members of the parish said they are excited to bring the painting to the documentary screening.
“Mayfield was an artist of the best kind,” said Fr. Will Steinbacher, who pastored St. Francis from 1984-1995, and knew Mayfield well. “Through him I learned a lot about the black experience. He was a gentle and kind man, and a constant and beloved presence in our community.”
Town Square Museum Curator Martha Jo Coleman first met Mayfield years ago, by working with his brother, Walter, at North Pontotoc Elementary School. As curator, she has been eager to show and promote his work.
“Mayfield was an inspiration to a lot of people, and he faced some unbelievably hard times with a generous spirit,” said Coleman. “I tell children coming through the museum that history can be told in lots of ways, particularly through art and music, and Mayfield’s work is a perfect example.”
Afamasaga praised the welcoming spirit of local people who made his work possible.
“It’s been an honor for me, an outsider, to have the privilege of telling this story,” said Afamasaga, who hails from New Zealand. “I’m deeply grateful to everyone who worked on the film and the wonderful people who contributed insight and stories. We see a lot of division in the world today, but so many people came together for this project, and I’m deeply appreciative and inspired.”
Security will be provided at the Pontotoc screening to ensure the safety of everyone’s paintings, McGee said. Easels will also be provided for attendees to display their paintings.
Afamasaga’s “Door Ajar” will also be featured in the Tupelo Film Festival, April 4-9.