the painter and the poet
article by MEREDITH MCKINNIE / photography by KELLY MOORE CLARK
Artistic expression and a shared sense of faith brought the painter Tami Curtis and the poet Perry Guy together in 2015. The couple’s new project with the National Audubon Society combines their love of art and poetry and gives back to the Gulf Coast region they now call home. The artists also take pride in creating books together that highlight natural and cultural aspects of the Gulf Coast and give back to the community. Tami paints the illustrations, and Perry creates the narrative. Together, they give voice and visualization to the coastline for locals and visitors alike. The duo’s artistic footprint is expanding beyond Bay St. Louis, where they currently live, and they hope to bring more attention and representation to the Gulf Coast through the passions they have transformed into noteworthy professions.
Tami Curtis grew up in Springhill, Louisiana with her parents Ray and Jackie Curtis who were both educators. When Tami was in middle school, her father attended college and received his degree in art education. The family then moved to Leesville, where Ray became Tami’s art teacher at Leesville High School, and Jackie taught special education at the schools. Ray was Tami’s art mentor. Raised in the rural town of Hornbeck in central Louisiana, Ray created realistic art with an impressionistic flair. He adored rural life and the outdoors, and most of his art depicted natural settings reflective of the land he loved. When Tami was about eight years old, she remembers visiting the family’s farmland in Hornbeck, walking through her mamaw’s cornstalk patch with her father. He said, “T-Baby, what color is that crow?” Puzzled, Tami insisted the crow was black. “Look again,” Ray said. “Watch what happens when the sun hits the bird’s wings.” Tami noticed the blues and purples that she had missed before. Ray taught his daughter that no true black exists in nature, that an artist must see colors beyond the obvious. An artist must pay attention to what the light can do and how it reflects. He instilled in her an artist must push beyond the flat and expected in one’s own expression. Her father taught her to always look again, to notice what others might miss, to see the depth right in front of her own eyes and give the colors time to show themselves.
Ray painted signs while in college to support the family. He was meticulous, and the craft required specific attention to detail as he painted billboards, business signs, and local menus. Night after night, Tami would watch her father work on the porch. She learned the skill necessary for the old-fashioned craft before the possibility of modern digital creations. Ray demonstrated how to handle the brush, how to control it to form borderlines or perfect circles. Their relationship blossomed in the presence of making art, the teacher educating his daughter, the pupil. Tami’s fascination with art continued in college as she majored in art education and graphic design while attending Louisiana Tech University.
After graduation, Tami moved to Monroe and took a job at Robert E. Lee Junior High School as an art educator, just like her father. She realized quickly that the kids deserved more and started an art club. The group raised money and traveled to Dallas on a field trip to visit art galleries. Many of the kids had never left their own neighborhoods, and many students rode in an elevator for the very first time. Growing up, Tami’s family lived on the two teachers’ modest income, but she was always shown the importance of seeing art in spaces dedicated to its appreciation. After a few years, Tami transferred to Ruston High School and then Fontainebleau High School in Covington, Louisiana. She served as Education Coordinator for the New Orleans Museum of Art, creating a curriculum called Artworks, which teaches reading, writing, and arithmetic by starting with an art lesson and working back to core subjects. While living in Covington, Tami spent her summers creating her own art and started selling paintings. She eventually devoted all her time to her artwork and now focuses on fine art paintings and illustrations. She loves to draw, sketch, and get her hands in clay, but she makes a living from the paintings and illustrations for children’s books.
Raised in Kentwood, Louisiana, Perry Guy grew up on a dairy farm. He knew hard work up close, waking up at daylight, milking cows, repairing fences, and breaking heifers. In junior high, Perry discovered poetry. He fell in love with Dickinson and Frost and tried his best to emulate the American greats between daily chores. He had a choice of continuing to work on the farm or going to college. He attended Southeastern University in Hammond, Louisiana, majoring in sociology and minoring in English. Upon graduation, the difficult economy moved Perry into the automobile industry. He trained with Royal Oldsmobile Group to become a dealer and eventually opened several small car dealerships, a profession he stuck with for twenty years. He then became a real estate broker, working in Florida and Alabama, and opened Island Life Kayaks and Paddle Boards in Gulf Shores in 2010, a business he still maintains today.
As a poet, Perry was naturally drawn to music. He played the guitar, and wrote and performed several of his own songs. One song entitled Gulf Coast Christmas debuted on the charts, and Perry briefly tried to make it in Nashville. He made two albums: Heart of Leather and Island Life in his mid-twenties. The music brought him back to the poetry, and he started writing books. His first book Treasures in the Sand features 10 short story beach poems and is all about the Gulf Coast. Before Covid, Perry frequented local schools, playing the guitar and talking to the children about books. He insists kids ask the best questions. He wrote his second book A Gulf Coast Christmas before he met Tami. The couple wrote the last three books together. Perry was thankful for his in-house illustrator and being able to collaborate with his life partner. The Mardi Gras Boat Parade, The Great Gulf Coast Seafood Festival, and Fine Feathered Friends are the couple’s most recent publications. Tami and Perry work alongside organizations such as the New Orleans Children’s Hospital and the Make a Wish Foundation to promote their books. Langenstein grocery stores, popular in the New Orleans area, sell their books, and the couple donates one book for every copy purchased. Tami and Parry are happy to be representing their community and working to promote the region. The family books are also sold in Tacky Jack’s and Souvenir City in Gulf Shores, and over seventy other shops in the southern region.
Tami met Perry the way many couples do now on Facebook. They frequented the same online circles and after casually commenting on each other’s posts, Tami finally reached out via messenger. They initially went to a friend’s film screening at UNO and identified long term potential. Both Tami and Perry value their faith, and they recognized Christian values and artistic expression in one another. Less than a year later, the two married and have four adult children between them. Jessica Odell Anderson lives in Indiana with her husband and their three children Soleil, Bruce, and Penelope. They operate a full-time flower farm along with raising pumpkins and Indian corn. Christopher Odell and his wife have a music venue service called Red Stick Music in Baton Rouge. Julie Odell is a full-time musician and artist and lives in New Orleans with her partner and their five year old daughter, Lilou. Chantal Marie Dale lives in Denham Springs with her husband, and works for Amazon, and cares for Perry’s three-year-old beloved grandson Alaric.
The Audubon Project was a blessing for Tami and Perry during Covid. Perry was approached by a woman at a small Christmas boutique show in 2019. She was familiar with the couple’s work and just happened to be the former director of the National Audubon Society. Through her recommendation, Tami and Perry feel privileged to work with the National Audubon Society to recognize the coastal wildlife. Tami also works with Legendary Blues Cruises, creating the designs for their posters, which features notable blues musicians during their sails. She acts as an artist-in-residence on the ship, taking photos for future paintings and selling her artwork to fellow cruisers. Perry is working on more books with his favorite in-house illustrator Tami. An upcoming favorite is entitled “The Farmer’s Market” and encourages locals to support local farmers. You can see and purchase the work of Tami Curtis and Perry Guy at The Painter and the Poet online or at the Tami Curtis Gallery gallery on 112 S Second St in Bay St Louis, MS.