Jimmy Lee Sudduth


Jimmy Lee Sudduth, one of the most recognized folk artists, was born on March 10, 1910. For many years he worked on local farms and in a lumber mill. He moved to town in 1950 and worked at odd jobs, mostly as a gardener.

He painted full time from the 1960's until about 2000. "Oh, I been paintin' all my life," he says. "It's been a long time. I'm nearly a hundred years old and I've never been in jail or been in court. That's pretty good," he chuckles proudly.

"I started with the mud when I was three years old." He noticed as a child that the rain washed away the mud he used to draw with. He accidentally discovered that molasses hardened and "set" the mud, and so, for most of his adult life, he added sugar to the mud. To achieve the colors he wanted, Jimmy Lee would rub natural plant matter- turnip greens, berries, roots and leaves, grasses, weeds and pine needles into the sweetened mud. He would hammer the early buds from trees to get a particular green or mash elderberries for a reddish-purple.

Sudduth painted only with natural materials exclusively until the late 1980's when he began to experiment with latex house paint. Around 1989 paint became predominant in many of his pieces, and he started using plywood instead of found wood.

Jimmy Lee didn't paint from memory, but preferred to paint what interested him. This could mean a menagerie of farm animals that include his now-famous white dog Toto, portraits shown full-length on a panel, dressed in his signature overalls and cap.

Sudduth painted every day, despite failing health. He was glad to have visitors crowd into his compact air conditioned, pre-fab studio to watch him work. He enjoyed playing blues on his harmonica and demonstrating how he made a painting.

Jimmy Lee is now in a nursing home, and no longer painting.