Madison artist paints train for Governor's Mansion
In decorating the Mississippi Governor’s mansion for Christmas this year, First Lady Elee Reeves and her staff wanted to do something to reflect the magic of the Christmas season and a Madison artist helped out.
“This year, our Christmas at the Mansion theme is ‘Celebrating Children and the Magic They Bring to Christmas,’” Reeves said.
Last year the mansion’s decorations reflected a theme of honoring frontline workers in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year, we were trying to move forward and into more of a feeling of hope and rejuvenation,” said Ann Phillips Beard, a Madison artist and resident who is also Elee Reeves’ chief of staff.
In thinking of things children love that make Christmas magical to children, the staff came up with an idea.
“Trains are definitely one of the top reasons children love Christmas and are just intrigued with how the trains will run around the tree,” Beard said. “That was one of the things that we really wanted to be our focal point was to have as many choo-choo trains as we could get our hands on here in the mansion.”
So this year, each of the mansion’s six Christmas trees has a toy train circling its base. However, only one of those six Christmas trees is a live tree, and it has a special train underneath it with cars that have Mississippi scenes hand-painted on them by Beard.
“One of my favorite decorations is the train that was hand-painted by my incredibly talented Chief of Staff, Ann Beard,” Reeves said. “She did a phenomenal job bringing different Mississippi scenes to life on each of the boxcars. It has been so fun to see the children’s eyes light up as they watched the train circle the tree.”
The red locomotive pulling the Mississippi train bears a painting of a Christmas wreath proclaiming Mississippi’s 65th Governor and First Lady Tate and Elee Reeves and the state seal on top.
“We ordered five different boxcars that I painted scenes from throughout the state of Mississippi on so that it was representatives of all of the regions in Mississippi and the people of Mississippi,” Beard said. “There’s one that is related to the Delta. It has got cotton fields and a John Deere tractor. Then there’s one that has the Pine Belt and shows little deer in the pines, and then farmlands.
“So, each car is painted on both sides. One has the mansion on one side and the state capitol on the other. And then one car has a Natchez steamboat, and then on the other side of that one, it has the Mississippi River Bridge, at Vicksburg. Then the last car has scenes from the Coast on it.”
Beard said she spent approximately 16 hours painting the train cars using acrylic paint that she also uses to paint pictures mostly on commission for friends. Over the years, Beard said, she has painted murals and furniture. She occasionally sells pieces at Persnickety in Madison.
Beard said she has always had a talent for art. She enjoyed taking art lessons in high school before going to college at the University of Mississippi, where she earned a degree in psychology with a minor in art and music. Beard later worked as an artist and faux finisher for approximately 22 years before becoming the first lady’s chief of staff.
“It’s just a gift that I have really enjoyed doing special things like this through the years,” Beard said. “Whether it be for my children, my grandchildren, friends, customers, I get to have the honor of saying, I have a choo-choo train at the governor’s mansion that I painted.”
Beard, a Pascagoula native, has lived in Madison for 34 years with her husband, Clay Beard, a home builder. They have three children, Thierry Beard Ramsey, who teaches at Madison Station Elementary and is married to Chaz Ramsey; France Beard Johnson, a tax accountant in Charlotte, North Carolina, married to Deuce Johnson. Their son, Patton Beard, is a junior accounting major at Ole Miss.
“We are the glowing grandparents of two perfect little ones, Pryor Jane Ramsey and Mills Austin Ramsey,” Ann Beard said.
Elee Reeves said children were invited to participate in this year’s mansion decorations theme and many students from throughout the state, including from Madison County and Madison County Schools participated.
“We received over 1,500 unique decorations,” Reeves said. “You can tell the children worked really hard on them.”