Each spring, the Oxford community looks forward to Double Decker, an annual festival on the Square showcasing both local and external art, music and food. In addition to the music lineup and participation of the Square’s storefronts, over 100 artists will fill art vendor booths and line the Square with their artwork.
Several of these art vendors are Ole Miss alumni who return to their college town to sell their crafts and take part in one of Oxford’s favorite traditions. Oxford native and Ole Miss alumna Debra Hewitt said that during her time in Oxford, the town was centered around literature more than artistry.
“When I grew up there, (Oxford) was coming into that artsy (movement). I graduated in 1988 and, back then, it was more of a literary place than an artsy place,” Hewitt said. “It was kind of the beginning of that era, so it’s neat to come back. For me, it’s my home. It’s changed so much but it’s changed so much for the better. It’s become a very cultural, artsy town,” she said.
Fifteen years ago, Hewitt realized her true calling was art. She now lives in Birmingham, Alabama and is returning to Oxford for the second consecutive year to sell her abstract pieces at Double Decker Arts Festival.
“I had to trust that this was what I was supposed to do. I had never had an art lesson before, and (now) this business is literally a full-blown LLC that’s in about 30 stores across 10 states,” she said.
Hewitt said she took a leap of faith with painting, something that she hopes young artists and Ole Miss students are inspired to do as well. For her, it’s about a lot more than just the paintings.
“If I can inspire one person that comes to my booth (who is) a young girl, that would mean more to me than anything. That’s what I love about doing shows,” she said.
Class of 2018 alumna and abstract artist Emory Ryals realized her love for painting during her years at Ole Miss. She will be returning as an art vendor at Double Decker for the second year. Now a special education teacher in Marks, Ryals credits Oxford for the opportunity to make art into a side career.
“I think Oxford allowed me to see that there was a possibility to painting rather than just a hobby, (that I) could really make it into a business because there are so many artists to be inspired by (in Oxford),” Ryals said. “I’m most inspired by the Delta, where I come from, but Oxford helped me put it into action. Oxford opened up possibilities for sure.”
Allie King, a senior who studies graphic design at Ole Miss, is one of the select group of students who have access to the art department’s small letterpress studio. She uses this equipment, a modernized version of an old-fashioned printing press, to create stationary, greeting cards and framable art targeted at young women.
“My junior year, I started getting tired of staring at a screen all day. I wanted to find something that I could start making with my hands again because I love working with my hands as an artist, so I took a letterpress class,” she said.
King and several of her peers applied to be art vendors at Double Decker on a whim for fun, doubtful that they would be accepted. As one of the few chosen, King said that the support from her friends and family has made all the difference in her journey of creating what she loves.
“I’ve always been the person attending Double Decker, not selling, so it’s going to be really interesting to see that side of Double Decker from the artist standpoint,” she said.