She grew up in the small Delta town of Sumner, and by her own account, her time at Mississippi University for Women changed the course of her life.
In ceremonies held this summer on the campus of her alma mater, Patti Carr Black of Jackson received the Noel Polk Lifetime Achievement Award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. The event was hosted by The W, with President Jim Borsig serving as master of ceremonies for the awards ceremony.
“I came to The W, and my first art course introduced me to a lifetime passion,” Black told more than 100 assembled, citing the influence of professors such as Eugenia Summer.
A 1955 magna cum laude graduate in art history, she also served as president of the student body, evidence of “her leadership ability then, and now,” said Borsig.
Black has been a leader through two careers, serving in a variety of positions with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for more than 30 years before retiring and turning to writing.
At the MDAH, she significantly enhanced the number and types of exhibits, establishing the Mississippi folklife program at the State Historical Museum in 1972 and coordinating Mississippi’s participation in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 1974.
MIAL also recognized Black for breakthrough projects such as creating the first permanent exhibit in the South on the Civil Rights Movement. It won the Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History in 1987.
Over her tenure at MDAH, she designed more than 100 temporary exhibits, as well as several permanent exhibits. After 30 years, she retired, but, she told the MIAL audience, she found herself at loose ends.
“I was happy to get a call one day to come to a committee meeting.” That single meeting about a writing project led to a second career and the publication of numerous award-winning books.
Among Black’s titles are “Art in Mississippi: 1728-1980”; “Eudora Welty’s Early Escapades”; “Eudora Welty’s World”; “Approaching the Magic Hour: The Memories of Agnes Anderson”; and “American Masters of the Gulf Coast.”
She previously received the Non-Fiction Award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters in 1989, and she also has received the Governor’s Award for Career in the Arts, among many other awards.
A strong advocate for the performing, as well as the visual, arts, Black was a founder of Jackson’s New Stage Theater and has held a variety of positions with state and national arts and historical organizations.
She joins other Lifetime Achievement honorees such as writers Elizabeth Spencer, Ellen Douglas and Shelby Foote, as well as cultural historian William Ferris. Noel Polk, for whom the award is now named, was a widely recognized William Faulkner and Eudora Welty scholar. He died in 2012.