Vicksburg native a reluctant winner of arts award

Published 3:00 pm Tuesday, November 25, 2008

As an artist, Vicksburg native Andrew Bucci has mastered the hues, shades and saturation of the color spectrum. But the 86-year-old painter prefers to deflect the spotlight of public praise.

When Bucci was nominated for the Mississippi Arts Commission Lifetime Achievement Award a few years ago, he asked to be removed from consideration. When he was nominated and selected for the 2009 award, he reluctantly agreed to accept it.

“It’s something I don’t really want. I’ve been out of the state for so long, and there’s many other people more deserving of the award than me,” Bucci said. “I wish they hadn’t chosen me.”

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A ceremony for the Governor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts will take place Feb. 26 at Galloway United Methodist Church in downtown Jackson. Other Mississippi musicians, writers, schools and galleries will be honored, including jazz singer Cassandra Wilson and writer John Grisham. The ceremony is open to the public.

Bucci has lived in the Washington, D.C., area since 1956, but still considers himself a visitor at his home in Fort Washington, Md.

“I feel like I’m a Mississippian, for better or worse,” he said. “I did more down there than I have ever done here.”

He took his first art class at All Saints’ Episcopal School in Vicksburg under the direction of impressionist Mary Clare Sherwood — whom Bucci noted would have been a much better choice for an award than himself. In the 1930s, he began studying with Marie Hull in Jackson and continued to do so after he want to Louisiana State University to study architecture and engineering.

He also took some courses at New York University before going to France to serve as a meteorologist during World War II. His service there gave him the opportunity to study at the Academie Julian in Paris.

Upon returning from the war, Bucci enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he received a bachelor’s degree in fine art in 1952 and a master’s degree in 1954. He looked for work as an art instructor, but said nobody would hire him. He went to work for the weather bureau in Washington and retired from there in 1979.

“I worked rotating shifts, and we’d get about three days off in a row during the week,” Bucci said about the years in which he had his most artwork featured in galleries. “I had an apartment with an extra room which I used as a studio, but I never really rang the big bells.”

Bucci’s paintings have been featured in galleries all over the country, such as the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, The Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

His work continues to be featured in galleries in Jackson and New Orleans. His best known works are oil paintings, which Bucci described as having “some degree of abstraction, but underneath have some realistic idea.”

“His artwork is so powerful. He is such and individualist, and such an interesting visual artist,” said Susan Dobbs, public relations director for the Mississippi Arts Commission. “He’s been all over the world, but he still loves Mississippi, still visits and still shows his work here.”

One of Bucci’s two brothers still lives in Vicksburg, as do many of his nieces, nephews and cousins. Bucci’s father, an Italian immigrant, worked as a tailor in Vicksburg, but first operated small haberdashery shops in New York and Kentucky after arriving in the United States in 1904.

The Mississippi Arts Commission has been recognizing artists with the Governor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts for 21 years, with past recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award including author Elizabeth Spencer and musicians Bo Diddly and Charley Pride.