Plains — “This is Georgia’s Hollywood!”
From her big hair to her colorful quips, Paula Deen has never been accused of being understated. And she wasn’t about to start Saturday morning when she swept into this teeny town for a high-profile fundraiser with her good friend, Jimmy Carter.
“Mr. Jimmy, how’re you doin’ honey?” Deen called out as the former president ambled into the Plains Community Center with his wife, Rosalynn, and immediately got swallowed up in her enormous bear hug. “I’ve been prayin’ for you so much!”
“We’re doing just fine,” said Carter, who later confirmed with a grin to the AJC that Deen was a “big personality.”
The pair hadn’t seen each other in a couple of years — although Deen’s been keeping up with Carter’s cancer battle through mutual friends here — and so it only made sense their face-to-face reunion would be big news. Even “Entertainment Tonight” showed up to cover “Painting, Paula and a President.”
A unique fundraiser for a couple of Plains nonprofits, the event was set against the backdrop of Carter’s and Deen’s shared love of painting. Some 50 people paid $500 apiece to attend an art class taught by renowned Atlanta area painter James Richards. Those who paid anywhere from two to four times as much would get to attend an exclusive dinner on Saturday night, or even stay at the Plains Inn for a “sleepover” with Deen.
“I didn’t bring any pajamas!” Deen told the AJC, which briefly thought it had quite a scoop — that is, until the famed TV chef and recent “Dancing with the Stars” alum disclosed she wears nightgowns to bed. But whatever happened in the Plains Inn on Saturday night, Deen planned on being up early the next morning to attend Carter’s Sunday school class for the first time.
“We all need some Sunday school in our lives, don’t we,” Deen said. “Especially from that man.”
Even as she spoke, “that man” was seated in the front row of folding chairs, attentively following along as Richards taught his nearly two-hour class. It began with him dipping crumpled up paper towels in brown paint and dabbing at a blank canvas to create “shapes and shadows” on what gradually emerged as a beautiful landscape.
In a conversation afterwards, Carter said he’d learned something, even at age 91.
“I have a lot of difficulty doing a loose, unrestricted type of painting,” said the Naval Academy grad and onetime nuclear submariner. “I think it’s because I’m an engineer, that reliance on strict accuracy. But my favorite artists are the Impressionists.”
Deen, who’d slipped out of the front row for awhile to chat with various people, was impressed by Carter’s attentiveness.
“He’s sittin’ on up there, behaving himself,” Deen chuckled. “I can’t sit still for that long. And I certainly can’t behave!”