Professor of art and design
West wonders “what if” he hadn’t turned right onto that route near Vicksburg, Mississippi, one day in 1994 during his sabbatical. That small detour led him to inspiration for an 18-year photography project on Margaret’s Grocery.
Margaret’s Grocery, which was run by the Reverend H.D. Dennis and his wife, Margaret, sold kitchen staples to the surrounding community.
However, it had really become more of a roadside attraction and folk-art palace, complete with a school bus turned into a chapel. Margaret’s Grocery was overtaken by the decorations that the Reverend created there. H.D. Dennis said his art was visions from God, and the signs, altars, installations and bus were a ploy to pique curiosity so he could attract visitors to share the gospel.
“Every year I kept going back, and it was always different,” West said.
Margaret’s Grocery became the subject of West’s photographic series and book “The True Gospel Preached Here.” He wanted a book that respectfully depicted the work of the Dennises, but also told a story of race, age, religion and class.
“He created his own universe that people all over the world came to visit,” West said. “That was pretty amazing.”
The Dennises passed away when they were in their 90s — Margaret in 2009, and H.D. in 2012 — but experiencing their passion for evangelism and art changed West from a passerby into a member of the family.
West said spirituality is the tie that binds all his projects together. For his latest endeavor, The Small Town Project, the former East Coaster is visiting small towns in Missouri to learn more about the state and the humanity of its inhabitants.
“If you’re a scientist, you’re trying to learn something new about the world,” he said. “The same thing with photography. I always approach it from that point of view. Also, as you’re doing that, you’re learning about yourself.”