Luster Willis was born in Hinds County, Mississippi, and then moved to Copiah County where he spent the majority of his life. Willis worked as a barber, farmer, woodcutter, and spent three years in Europe during World War II. During the Depression, Willis began carving walking canes for a source of income. Willis had a stroke and spent the last decade of his life paralyzed in a wheelchair. He was never scared of death, and once remarked, “We all going to die. I like to show it coming.”
Willis began drawing and painting his imaginative thoughts at a very young age. He sketched and carved humorous drawings of classmates and objects around him. Often, Willis would begin drawing or painting abstractly until it evoked a memory, and then he would develop that memory further.
It was common for Willis to also picture himself in a situation that he may have experienced or heard about. In the Pink Coffin he pictured the scene of Emmit Till’s funeral. He was inspired after reading about the violent murder of the young black boy. In other paintings, such as the Rich Man Poor Man, he depicts images from the Bible. Willis would use watercolor, finger-paint, and shoe polish in paintings such as these.