From William Faulkner to the Ole Miss Rebels, you don’t have to be from Mississippi to know that Oxford has a great deal of history and culture that make it unique.
For the past 20 years, Oxford has been home of one of the most talked about arts festivals in the country. Originally inspired by the Double Decker bus that Oxford imported from England in 1994, the Double Decker Festival brings together the best music, art, and food the town has to offer.
While music and food have become important parts of the Double Decker Festival, art is truly the driving force behind the event and the main attraction for tourists. Double Decker is considered an ‘Arts Fest’ because it allows local artists to gather in a central place and share their work, not only with fellow artists, but also with the general public and people of Oxford.
Debbie Smith Myers is one of the artists that make the Double Decker Festival possible. Originally from Kansas City, Myers has been creating art her entire life. She graduated with a degree in graphic design from Arkansas State University and, soon after, came to own her own personalization gift shop franchise, Happi-Names.
For the next 12 years, Myers ran and operated Happi-Names out of Springfield until moving to Memphis. Instead of leaving the establishment behind, Myers moved Happi-Names to Memphis with her, where she continued to operate it for the next five years.
After 17 years with the company, Myers decided to leave behind the retail business and began teaching art to schools in the Memphis area. Myers and her husband retired to Oxford in September of 2009.
For the past six years, Myers has made Oxford her home by working as an advisor for the Alpha Delta chapter of Phi Mu at the University of Mississippi, as well as working as a freelance artist.
Freshman Phi Mu Lexy Johnson says that she loves when Myers comes to the house with her original artwork.
“It is always a nice surprise when Mrs. Debbie brings her art around the house,” she said. “I love looking at all of the new scenes she has painted.”
While Myers expresses equal love and passion for both jobs, she has an undeniable excitement for her artistic opportunities.
“When I retired here, I was really able to start doing my own art,” Myers said.
She is currently a member of the Oxford Artist’s Guild. With over 100 members, the Oxford Artist’s Guild is the largest and most influential artist organization in the area, and Myers attributes a lot of her success to being part of such a wonderful association.
At this year’s Double Decker Festival, Myers had a booth set up on the Courthouse Square where she was able to showcase her beautiful artwork and perform art demonstrations to those passing by.
Myers considers herself a watercolorist at heart, but said upon moving to Oxford, she has tried other mediums.
“Since I moved here, I started dabbling in acrylic and mixed media,” Myers says. “As long as I’ve been doing this, I’m still trying to find my niche.”
This year, Myers decided to only showcase and sell watercolor at the Double Decker Festival. Her paintings consist primarily of landscapes and famous landmarks from the Oxford area that are easily recognizable.
She said, “If you’re going to participate in Double Decker, and you want to sell something, you do Oxford scenes and Ole Miss scenes, because what you’re doing is selling a memory.”
As a retailer, Myers understands the importance of painting the type of scenes that the public will want to keep for him or herself after the festival is over.
“Outside of Double Decker, I’m really into portraits,” she said. “I haven’t spent as much time as I’ve wanted to really develop that, but it’s something I enjoy doing, and something that I plan on really working on this summer.”
Many of these portraits are custom orders, and Myers does a lot of commission artwork outside of the Double Decker Festival.
“I work on my art almost everyday,” she said.
When the Double Decker Festival isn’t in town, Myers spends a great deal of time working with the Oxford Artist’s Guild for other various events.
“We get together quite a bit,” she said. “We do workshops together. The Oxford Artist’s Guild meets once a month, and we also participate in shows at the Powerhouse.
These shows include annual events such as the Art-er Limits Oxford Fringe Festival in August, as well as new shows like the Science & Art Exhibit that is scheduled for this upcoming June. Serving on the Oxford Artist’s Guild Executive Board as assistant to the president, Myers works to make sure these events run smoothly, as well as participating and showcasing her own artwork.
It is very important to Myers to not get caught up in the executive side of things and to remember why she joined the Oxford Artist’s Guild in the first place.
“I love learning new things because it takes me out of my box and helps that creative process,” Myers says. “Artists need to be around other artists. It helps our creative juices.”
Myers and the Oxford Artist’s Guild offer plenty of opportunities to get those creative juices flowing for all people interested in art, regardless of membership.
“We have an Art Crawl on the third Tuesday of every month where anyone can go and see all the art in Oxford,” she said. “It’s a whole lot of fun.”
Starting at the Powerhouse, those in attendance get to see a showcase of different artwork before visiting various galleries on the Courthouse Square, as well as the Ole Miss Department of Art and Art History.
Regardless of the time of year, Double Decker weekend or not, art has a huge presence in the town of Oxford. Oxford residents take pride in the plethora of artistic talent this small town has to offer.
Debbie Smith Myers is a prime example of how art has shaped and improved the lives of those since joining the Oxford community. She believes that Oxford is absolutely the best place to be in order to explore and experience art at it’s fullest potential.
“If you go down to the Square, you’ll run into a lawyer, a writer, and an artist,” Myers said with a smile.
Meek School or Journalism and New Media, University of Mississippi