Frank Swords, Last of A Dying Breed

In this day and age a man should consider himself fortunate to have one or two really good friends. I feel especially blessed to have several. The late Frank Swords was a talented artist, history buff, and a best friend. He was intelligent, honest, kind and hilariously funny. Even though he lived across the State from me, we visited each other often and attended several conferences together. He was a big help to me during the State flag fight, and during my campaign for governor. He was the type of true friend that would literally hop in his truck and come to my aid at a moment’s notice. I could always trust him to have my back, and in a world full of wusses…Frank Swords was a true man.

In his own neck of the woods, he was often misunderstood and many looked down upon him. Shallow-minded simpletons always feel threatened by those who think, and act, outside-the-box. I knew Frank Swords. I understood his thinking. In his own way, he was a great man. He worked for himself and enjoyed the freedom this gave him to indulge his hobbies and artistic pursuits. I believe Frank could have been a wealthy man, but like the stereotypical artist, he was more concerned with his art, than with financial gain.

I wished there were more men like my late friend, but God destroyed the mold after he made Frank Swords. When he passed away in 2011, I felt we had lost one of the very last of a dying breed. The good news is his art work lives on. Frank once told me I was the single biggest collector of his art and I have posted many of the prints and originals in the gallery below. Most of them hang in my office building.

Frank was kewlness personified

Frank Swords

Frank Swords – Self-Drawn

It’s weird but I do not remember where Frank and I met. I guess it feels like we were always friends. What I do know is that Frank and I became fast friends. We shared a love of Confederate history, we had the same heroes, we loved historical artwork, and we listened to the same music! I thought Frank was kewl because he was a very confident man and not afraid to step outside the politically-correct box and try to correct revisionist history, in whichever way he could.

The first time the family and I visited Frank’s house behind the Tin Lizzy in West Point, Mississippi, we were amazed at how kewl his place was. He was quite the collector. He would travel around to festivals, re-enactments and other events and bring back all sorts of off-the-wall things. There in the middle of his living room was an antique barber chair. Along the walls hung his artwork mingled in with other art he had collected. On the shelves, were historical artifacts, fossils, odd knick knacks and collectibles, kepis and anything else you could name that would not be found in any other West Point home. He could have charged admission.

My oldest son thought Frank was about as kewl as a dude could be. Not only did Frank treat him like a “big boy” but took up time with him. He promised my son he was going to take him fossil hunting on Tibbee Creek and arrowhead hunting at his “secret locations.” It never came to pass but Frank was serious about it. My son also thought it was really neat that Frank got to dress up in period clothing and set up a vendor’s tent at various re-enactments and events across the Deep South.

Artistic Abilities

Frank had more artistic ability in his little finger than I possess in my whole body. His pencil sketches were phenomenal. I was also very impressed with his pointillism abilities. I’ve yet to even comprehend how the mind can convert images to dots. In 1996, I commissioned Frank to sketch one of my heroes…Robert Lewis Dabney. So many people had drawn, or painted, all the great Southern generals and political figures, but no one had drawn Dabney. This was rather odd to me since Dabney is an important figure both historically and theologically. Frank agreed to sketch Dabney for $300 so I sort of expected a “quickie” sketch. What he delivered to me far exceeded my expectations. His drawing was the most incredible pencil sketch I had ever seen. Plus he framed it, matted it, and placed an engraved plate at the bottom. I told him I owed him more money, but he refused to take it. Yes, that was Frank Swords. The truth is he never wanted to charge me for anything. He and I both felt uncomfortable when it came to money. He wanted to do the artwork out of friendship and I felt I had nothing to repay with but money.

Two months later I commissioned him to draw the great patriot, Patrick Henry. Again, he only charged my $300 and I got the same quality as the first one. I eventually had him draw two more for me, John C. Calhoun and William Wallace. After Frank drew the originals, I paid him to make 100 copies. He would number them and hold on to them until I needed a batch to sell. I did pretty well with Dabney and Henry. I don’t think I ever sold a single William Wallace print. I had Frank draw Wallace from an old book sketch. Everyone complained that the prints didn’t look anything like Mel Gibson! Well, that was the point after all.

I did end up with two more Frank Swords originals. I always wanted to purchase his original of Stonewall Jackson but he was hanging on to that one. Later, out of the blue, he asked me if I still wanted it and would only take the obligatory $300 for it. The final “original” was a gift. His favorite drawing was one he did of Nathan Bedford Forrest. His prints had sold out. All he had left was the original and he said he wanted me to have it. These Frank Swords originals are among my most prized possessions. They are not for sale at any price.

My friend was also a musician and played a mean flute. He told me Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull was one of his main inspirations. He told stories of sitting in with various bands, playing improv. When he said he could play “Cross-eyed Mary” note for note, I was impressed.

Funny Story about the Dabney sketch

Once I received a call from Frank and he said next time I was up, he wanted me to bring my Dabney and Henry originals. He had purchased a special spray he wanted to apply that would supposedly keep the paper from aging. I was a bit nervous when he took the sketch out of the frame, laid it on the table and aimed this can of spray at it. I remember asking, “Are you sure this is O.K.?” After all, the Dabney print was probably in my top two prized possessions. After assuring me all was well, he started spraying and the can shot out bubbly foam all over Dabney’s face and beard. It had not sprayed a mist like it should have done.

Frank looked back at me and later said if I could only have seen my face. He said there was terror and panic. And why not, my precious Dabney had been ruined right before my eyes. Frank quickly assured me he would draw me another one. But like my prized first Bible, replacing it with a new one is not the same.

To make the story short, Frank cleaned it best he could and managed to use his electric eraser and selectively erase and re-do certain spots. When he was done it was very close to the original…end of the world avoided. Needless to say I was very reluctant to have any other drawings sprayed! Of course, even if he had totally ruined it, I never could have blamed him. After all, he was a best buddy.

Visiting Wiggins

Frank visited my place often: delivering t-shirts, passing through to his next show, or just coming for a visit. The thing is, he always brought a gift. Either he had a new print, or he found me something peculiar at a show. He usually brought a little something for Nathaniel who was old enough to be into it. The two became quite tight over the years.

Beginning in 1997, Frank mentioned he wanted me to have all of his “Print No. 1” artwork. From that day forward he would always deliver the protoprint to me “hot off the press.” He knew I was his biggest fan and had all his collected artwork hanging in my office, so he felt I alone deserved the first in each series. The only exception was the “Battle of West Point” in which the original and first 40 copies were commissioned.

In 1999 he dropped by and gave me Print No. 1 of Lt. Charles “Saavy” Read. He told me the fascinating story of this Mississippi naval officer and I ended up obtaining a book. “He Saw The Elephant” by Hewitt Clarke became one of my favorite Confederate biographies.

We would drive up and visit Frank from time to time. On one visit I asked him if I could see the Tibbee Creek bridge he had drawn in a sketch. He jumped in my van and we headed off to check it out. When we got to the edge of the bridge I took one look at the old rusty structure and decided it wasn’t a good idea to cross it. I had memories of an old bridge near Grand Gulf I used to cross every day. It looked better than this one but collapsed into the creek one night killing a couple people I knew. Frank insisted we cross and I certainly did not want to appear the coward. I slowly creaked over and later, nervously crept back. Frank said Governor Kirk Fordice stopped by one of his booths and fell in love with the Tibbee Creek drawing and purchased a copy. He admitted it was the turkeys, not the bridge that garnered his attention.

Historical & Political Causes

Frank was a compatriot in historical and political organizations. He greatly assisted me in fund-raising efforts by designing and printing various t-shirts. He did all the designs for Free Mississippi during the State flag fight and my campaign for governor. I get too much credit for the State Flag victory but I’m quick to acknowledge people like Frank Swords deserve much credit for preserving that beautiful flag which still flies over Mississippi to this day.

Frank was one of the few Mississippians that sacrificed a large amount of time for saving the State flag. He never complained once. In fact, he was always asking, “What can I do next?” If you read Stephen Dill Lee’s Charge (see the gallery below), please understand that Frank took it very much to heart. He believed our Southern forefathers had been denigrated and made to sit on the stool of everlasting repentance. He was not content to idly stand by and do nothing. He never missed an opportunity to defend the heritage he held dear.

Last Years

Frank and I sort of lost contact as the years past 2003 progressed onward. I had quit my involvement in the Southern and political causes as I focused my attention on being a single parent of four children. In 2009 I heard that he had fallen on some hard times so the kids and I made the trip to visit with him. He seemed like a broken man and didn’t have a lot to say. I felt sad because he was always jolly and so full of life. When I heard of his death, I could hardly believe it. He left a void, and I seriously doubt it will ever be filled.

I miss him a lot.

R.I.P.
Hubert Franklin Swords II
b 01.17.1951
d 07.02.2011

all men die, some men never live

Legal Note: All of the artwork used in this article is copyrighted and cannot be used without express written permission. I hold the copyright to the artwork I commissioned, but Frank’s heirs hold the copyright to everything else. During his lifetime, Frank gave me permission to use his artwork online but that permission does not extend past my websites. You will have to contact Frank’s family for permission to use his artwork. Do not post these on Facebook, or other social media sites. The fine print gives the site ownership of all photos you post. I chose not to watermark these images so readers can view and appreciate the beauty of Frank Sword’s skill. Please do not abuse that privilege. Thanks!

Signed & Numbered Prints:

Originals:

One Final Note: This is not my entire collection. These were the main ones I have hanging in my office and home. I have a few more that may be packed. I will post them later as I come across them. Also, I have what I believe was Frank’s first Confederate drawing – that of Robert E. Lee standing. The glass in the frame was broken and set aside to be replaced. I am not entirely sure where it is but will add it when I come across it.

The featured image of Robert E. Lee is Print No. 1. Frank believed this to be the most valuable of all his signed & numbered prints. He framed it up special and used to have it hanging in his living room. One day, he gave it to me and said he wanted me to have it. He said I was a warrior in the spirit of Robert E. Lee. I kindly tried not to accept it because I knew how much it meant to him. He prevailed. It now hangs in my daughter’s bedroom. She is Dixie Lee Cripps, named after her country and her country’s greatest Christian gentleman warrior. She knows what the artwork meant to both Frank and I and will one day pass it on to her son – Robert Lee…well, here’s to a father hoping, right?