Memphis Wood, a long-time resident of Mandarin, was affectionately known as Jacksonville’s “First Lady of Art.” She excelled in many aspects of art, including drawing, painting, pottery, and jewelry, but is probably best known for her unique and colorful work in fabrics and textiles.
Born in 1902 in a small town in North Georgia, Memphis became interested in art when she was 17 years old and talked her older sister into paying 50 cents a week for art lessons. Memphis moved to Jacksonville in 1929 and secured a position teaching art at Landon Junior-Senior High School, where she was one of only three art teachers in Duval County. She taught at Landon until she retired from the school system in 1962. She also taught full time for five years at Jacksonville University, as well as teaching classes at the Jacksonville Art Museum (now the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville) and the Children’s Museum (now the Museum of Science and History.)
When her San Marco garage apartment became too small for her to paint and store her works, she decided to move. “I went out and bought a $500 Ford, and I found a place in Mandarin where I could build a house.” She built her home on Woodside Lane, just east of the Mandarin Community Club and almost across the street from Charlie Brown, who would become her lifelong friend and artistic soul mate. She would reside there until she returned to Atlanta and her family several years before her death in 1989.
Through her artwork and her teaching, Memphis taught or influenced many local and regional artists as well as the public at large. As Sally Ann Freeman noted, “She has probably done more to communicate what art is all about to the citizens of Jacksonville than any other single artist.” Many of Memphis’ works are found in museums and corporate, private, church and university collections. Prior to her death, she exhibited her work in New York, Atlanta, and North Carolina. Several of her works are currently on display at the Mandarin Museum.
Memphis was one of the founders of the Jacksonville Art Museum, which has grown from a house in Riverside to a location in the Koger Center to its present location downtown, where it continues as MOCA Jacksonville. After her death, the Museum established the Memphis Wood Excellence in Teaching Award, presented annually for outstanding contributions to the arts in education.