Growing up in rural Yazoo County can come with its share of limitations when it comes to technology, but for Samantha Lee Sakcriska, it was the perfect place to awaken her creative side.
And she has been creating ever since.
The artist and now author of two children’s books is currently living in Nova Scotia, Canada, but the memories of her childhood home near Bentonia are still churning out paintings, and her most recent literary work is based on a legend familiar to most in the Yazoo area.
“I grew up in a cow pasture outside of Bentonia,” Sakcriska said. “We didn’t have much. We didn’t even have an air conditioner. Being limited to the little toys and only three channels on TV, creativity was a must.”
Sakcriska said she once fashioned a Barbie house from a shoe box, filled with moss from the trees surrounding her house, for carpeting.
“I would also try to make rafts to float in the pond (by my house),” she said.
Though the heart of her inspiration has always been in Yazoo County, she felt the call from a young age to be a world traveler.
“My interest in travel was sparked while watching Indiana Jones as a kid,” Sakoriska said. “I was further engaged when my fifth-grade teacher, the late Ruth Hilderbrand, gave us an assignment. We had to send off for a brochure from a different state. I liked learning about different places and cultures, so I continued to send off for brochures from everywhere around the world. Living in a cow pasture, where the closest neighbor was two miles away, it was my link to the world. I even received mail from Princess Diana.”
Sakcriska just published her first book, Tales of a Chahta Girl: Growing Up In Indian Territory, which is based off an interview her great grandmother gave about her life growing up in the late 1800s in Indian territory in present-day McAlester, Okla.
“I felt these stories were not just important to me but important to the history and to the Choctaw people,” Sakcriska said. “It gives a unique insight into the still wild west and what children at the time faced.”
On top of the interview she had from her great grandmother, Sakcriska researched the history and the area thoroughly before illustrating the book.
“I read as much as I could on the local history and also looked for as many photo references that I could find on the area,” she said. “I hand-painted every scene then photographed the paintings.”
Sakcriska then uploaded the photos to her computer and made the text pages. She eventually published the book as an independent author.
She said that the book is primarily written for kids, ages 5-8, but she has received feedback from kids of all ages, as well as adults who have told her they learned from the illustrated tale.
“I hope readers will have more knowledge on how children lived in the late 1800s and that they also have a new insight into some of the Choctaw culture,” she said.
Her second book, which hit Amazon’s digital shelf in January, is an illustrated book about the legendary Witch of Yazoo.
“The Witch of Yazoo book is dear to my heart, because I grew up hearing the legend,” Sakcriska said. “For this book, I have done the illustrations on the computer, and it has its own style.”
She said the book follows the original story, with some elements added from other adaptations of the folk tale.
“Some say her house was covered in wisteria vines, so I Incorporated that,” she said. “Some stories say that her husband died, and she moved from a big house to a small one on the edge of the Yazoo River, so I included that.”
Sakcriska said she grew up around creative people, both musically and artistically gifted, and she said the geography of the area continues to influence her art and writing today.
“I am currently in Nova Scotia, but my heart is forever in Mississippi,” she said. “I still paint Mississippi scenes by memory and have Mississippi stories that I want to tell. The Witch of Yazoo is just one of many that I want to get out into the world.”
Sakcriska is a graduate of Yazoo County High School.
She received an Associate’s degree from Holmes Community College in 2006, a BFA from Delta State University in 2008 and an MS in Two-Dimensional Art from Mississippi College in 2016.
She has lived in Minnesota, Texas and Oklahoma, before moving to Nova Scotia last year.
Sakcriska’s art, inspired by her Mississippi upbringing and her travels around the globe, can be seen at her website, https://authorsamanthalee.wixsite.com/author.