When I listen to Jimmy Anderson speak in this video, I feel as if I’m listening to an uncle. Thinking through my list of uncles, several of them no longer living, I don’t come up with a match for him, but he still sounds like an uncle. Maybe it’s his calm voice and simple wisdom. Maybe it’s because I’m feeling more at home in southwest Missouri, just a few miles away from Oklahoma. There are a lot of uncle types here with his accent.
Jimmy Anderson, part of the Creek tribe, is an artist, a musician, and a missionary. I learned of him about the time I discovered Lilias Trotter. Both left behind careers in the arts to pursue life in vocational ministry. When I wrote about Trotter, I noted how little attention has been paid to her. Anderson is even less well-known. His documentary is shorter and no well-known actor plays him in it. Actually, there’s no reason to compare the two, except to note the similarities in their paths. Each has a unique story worth telling in its own right.
After graduating from high school, Anderson sang with the quartet the Osceola Four, a group that recorded a song with “The Spike Jones Orchestra” and appeared regularly on a TV variety show out of Oklahoma City. He was even more talented as a painter and studied under the Cheyenne painter, Walter Richard “Dick” West. Along with West, he became part of the Oklahoma Flat-Style movement.
But his life changed after he saw some children sitting on the curb outside a bar in Oklahoma City, waiting for their parents to come out from their drinking. After praying and fasting, he felt a calling from God and committed his life to preaching, later serving with the Southern Baptist’s Home Mission Board.
The folks at KOSU’s Invisible Nation made this mini documentary about Anderson, as a companion to their on-air reporting about this man who passed up his potential in the art world for life as a missionary.
Anderson’s work is part of the collection at Tulsa’s Philbrook Museum of Art. In the documentary, Christina Burke, curator of Native American and non-Western Art there, summarizes Anderson’s life succinctly in the documentary,
Well, I don’t know a lot about Jimmy Anderson and his career as an artist. I think he probably had his life path taken in another direction rather than making a career as an artist.
Art is still a part of Anderson’s life, but not an active part any more. “I know I’m where I’m supposed to be,” he says and continues,
I made the right decision, well, the Lord made the right decision for me. I’m happy . . . at peace with what I’m doing in the Lord. But I don’t use my art any more. I’ve still got visions of some paintings in my mind that I would like to do. But, boy, I’m just so busy doing my ministry, that doesn’t leave me much time to just sit down and do some painting.
In the documentary, he tells about helping a family whose mother had died from an accidental shooting. It was Christmastime, and after giving her children gifts and praying with them, he told his sons, “I’m a preacher and a missionary. But I want you to know, I enjoy what I’m doing. I’m glad I am who I am.”
(Allison Herrera, “Watch: Our Mini-Doc on Creek Preacher Jimmy Anderson,” KOSU, March 8, 2016)