When Lee Washington looks at a pile of nails, spindles from a cotton picker, and other metal bits, he sees a guitar player, a bull rider, or a golfer. These small pieces of discarded farm equipment become works of art in the hands of Washington.
Washington grew up in Hollandale, Mississippi. From 1974 to 1994, Washington was in the military, serving in the U.S. Army. He returned to the Delta to attend Alcorn State University/Mississippi State University from 1996 to 1998 where he obtained a teaching certificate.
He taught Agricultural Power and Machinery at South Delta Career and Technical Center beginning in 1995 and retiring in 2017. His classes focused on topics such as welding, safety, tool and machine identification, and tractor operation and maintenance.
He began welding metal into art in 2001 when he had some extra cotton picker spindles leftover after teaching a class at the Career and Technical Center.
“I was trying to figure out what to do with them,” says Washington, “and I saw a man appear.”
Washington began heating, bending, and welding the spindles to create his first sculpture.
As he became more proficient in creating his art, Lee began going to several Delta festivals as an exhibitor and vendor.
He displayed several sculptures at Rolling Fork’s first Charter Festival (now the Deep Delta Heritage Blues Festival) in 2001 and discovered that there was a market for his work.
In 2008, Washington was one of six Mississippi artists invited to travel to the Chicago Blues Festival with Mississippi Development Authority’s Visit Mississippi, where he was able to display and sell his work.
Washington’s work reflects life in the Mississippi Delta with each section of his shop showcasing a different component: agriculture, music, religion, sports, flowers, creatures, and critters.
He is a 16-year member of the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi and participates in their annual Chimneyville Crafts Festival.
Lee’s Cotton Picker Art Gallery is located in downtown Rolling Fork adjacent to the Muddy Water’s Blues Trail Marker. His gallery receives visitors from all over Mississippi, out of state, and even international tourists.
He has enjoyed forming relationships with these visitors and has become a regular stop for a few international motorcycle tours from Chicago to New Orleans.
When you’re visiting Rolling Fork and Sharkey County, stop by Lee Washington’s Cotton Picker Art Gallery in downtown Rolling Fork and take home a piece of Mississippi Delta folk art!