By Emma Kent
Maria Tucci-Hughes always said she’d never be an artist. That was her mother’s thing, and she was going to have her own thing – as all daughters of mothers must.
Fast-forward to present day and Maria’s art hangs alongside work by her mother, Judy Tucci, at the Caron Gallery in downtown Tupelo.
“I wouldn’t do it forever because mama did it,” Maria said. “I really did not want to do it because she did it, so I had to make it my own.”
Like most mothers and daughters, the two Baldwyn women have found that they’re inevitably similar. But through their art their differences shine.
Judy’s introduction to the world of art was not through painting and drawing, but through her parents who were both makers. Her father whittled, and her mother made quilts.
“My mother and dad didn’t know what art was,” Judy said. “I guess in some ways they did art, but they didn’t call it art.”
When she started classes at Northeast Mississippi Community College, Judy decided she wanted to be an artist. She later taught art at NEMCC for 26 years. She even had Maria as a student.
Now retired, Judy spends her time working in her home studio – an art-filled sunroom furnished with a desk, easel and a thicket of houseplants. Pastels grace every surface, and small pieces of art rest in the windowsills.
As the daughter of an artist, Maria’s art education naturally began early.
“Mama used to make me go with her on ‘art excursions’ – even when I didn’t want to – because she wanted me to be an impressionist model,” Maria said.
So far, Maria hasn’t made her six-year-old daughter, Towns, pose for her. But Towns is already on her way to becoming an artist herself. She even has her own work station in her grandmother’s studio.
Now, working on location together has become a cherished mother-daughter activity for Judy and Maria.
“We love to go out on location,” Judy said.“You get out there and get to be part of what you’re doing – it’s a wonderful experience.”
Maria, a mother and art teacher at Booneville Middle School, said the two don’t get as much time to paint together during the school year.
They’re looking forward to the summer, when things will slow down and they’ll have more time to work together.
Both Maria and Judy are inspired by natural elements and landscapes, though they differ in their style of work.
Judy is more cautious and careful when she works, while Maria admits she’s a bit more spontaneous.
Judy works in pastels, creating intricate, life-like scenes. Maria uses oil paints and her work tends to be more abstract, although she has done pieces in a range of styles.
“She does the abstracts, but then when she picks up the pencil she gets so realistic,” Judy said of her daughter. “She has a wide range. That impresses me.”
Sitting in her living room, which doubles as her own personal art gallery, it’s clear that for Judy, art is more than simply painting or drawing. It’s about capturing life.
She can tell a story about each piece – where she found the subject, why she wanted to paint it and how it’s changed since.
It’s also about finding beauty in her surroundings. One of Judy’s favorite paintings that she’s done is a watercolor of an old house in downtown Tupelo.
Judy happened upon the house one day as it was being worked on. It spoke to her, so she took a photo of it and went home to paint it, capturing it as it was on that particular day.
Another piece, a striking portrait of a former neighbor of Judy’s and a young girl, prompts Judy to tell a story detailing the man’s house and wife. Through the one image she’s created, she can see his whole world.
“I don’t get as attached to them as mama does,” Maria said. “It’s more about the work for me than the thing.”
Maria loves the process of taking an idea and bringing it to life. In her abstracts, she plays with contrast between organic shapes and structures.
“That’s always the hardest thing, especially with abstract – you have an idea about colors and structure and all of the elements, but you have to make it come together,” Maria said.
It’s about seeing where the process takes her.
“It’s freeing as opposed to painting the landscapes,” Maria said.
Although it’s the process that draws her in, Maria said her work is still very much grounded in her surroundings and sentimentality.
She lives among wide open landscapes, grew up in the rural Pratts community and her husband and son are hunters, so all of those things play into her work.
They often bring her treasures from their hunting trips to inspire her paintings.
“I like bones. I like to spend time outside,” Maria said. “A lot of the work I do is definitely inspired by nature.”
What makes Judy and Maria’s relationship as artists special, Judy said, is the level of trust between them that comes from loving each other fiercely.
As mother and daughter, they may not always agree, but they depend on one another in both art and life.
“I couldn’t put a piece out if I didn’t have Maria come over and tell me it looked good,” Judy said. “I critique her work, too. We work back and forth like that.”