‘The Growing Season’: Wyatt Waters paints scene at Vicksburg’s Thrift-Kain House

Published 10:56 am Thursday, June 1, 2023

It started out just like any other Tuesday for Gregory Bingham and Randolph Adair, owners and caretakers of the Thrift-Kain House on Oak Street in Vicksburg’s Garden District.

A gentleman pulled up near their house in a dark SUV, and the pair gave him a friendly wave, as they’re wont to do when tending the flower garden. But it wasn’t just any stranger who approached them — it was award-winning Mississippi painter Wyatt Waters, out on an inspirational drive from his home base in Clinton.

“The next thing I know, he walked up and he said, ‘Can I paint your hollyhocks?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, of course,'” Bingham said. “I’m relatively new to Mississippi, so I didn’t recognize him. But Randolph recognized him and he said, ‘I know who you are.'”

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Initially, Bingham said, he thought Waters intended to come back to the house at a later date, or at least wait until the sun wasn’t so harsh overhead. But Waters had other plans.

The Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts recipient pulled out an easel, a stool and his famed palette of watercolor paints right then and there. What resulted from the more than three-hour painting session is a treasure Bingham said will soon have pride of place in the Thrift-Kain House.

“He sat down in the heat, in the blazing sun,” Bingham said. “He could have gone up the hill just a little ways under the trees, but he sat right there by the curb. I teased him about it — I said, ‘You know, I always just assumed that a Plein Air painter had made in the shade, you know? But you’re just sitting down here baking in the sun.'”

Bingham said he and Adair had no idea Waters was painting them into the picture as they worked in the garden, stringing up dahlias. But the pair are clearly visible amongst the flora, with Adair in his wide-brimmed hat and Bingham in a white t-shirt.

“We were just working in the garden (while Waters painted),” Bingham said. “I was talking to Randolph about it this morning, and he was emotional — just talking about how special this is.”

Sprays of delphinium, roses, sweetpea, gladiolus and hollyhocks, which Bingham said initially attracted Waters to the property, are displayed on the left and right of the painting along with another fitting visage: The Thrift-Kain House itself.

Built circa 1856, the home of Samuel B. Thrift is commonly depicted on the fringes of photographs of historic Vicksburg. One notable example dates back 160 years to the Siege of Vicksburg: a photo of an encampment looking southeast from the Marine Hospital Battery taken in late 1863, which shows the Union occupation of the property. Thrift, who supported the Confederate war effort through the operation of a shot furnace, had a front-row seat to the Union and Confederate gunboats coming up and down the Mississippi River.

Bingham added that the inclusion of himself and Adair in the painting was especially meaningful in light of all the work the pair have put into the property — saving it from complete ruin when they bought it a couple of years ago.

“I have photos of what it was, sort of as a before and after, but what it was, was just a sad, dilapidated, dangerous house,” Bingham said. “And now, it’s a garden in a Wyatt Waters painting.”

The painting, titled “The Growing Season,” is a 22-by-15-inch watercolor on canvas. It will soon hang in the Thrift-Kain House as the pair have purchased it, Bingham said, and he and Adair hope Waters returns to Vicksburg soon.