Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Artist Spotlight: Henry Ossawa Tanner

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Still Life With Apples (1890)

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859–1937), an African American artist, was known internationally for his paintings that focus on spirituality and imagination. The son of a minister, Tanner often depicted biblical scenes, utilizing both his academic training and what he saw on his visits to the Middle East and Africa.

Tanner was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before the American Civil War. He enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) in 1879, where he studied under Thomas Eakins. After Tanner made his debut in New York and opened an art studio in Philadelphia, he moved to Atlanta in 1889, initially to open a photography studio. His business was unsuccessful, but he later taught a course in drawing at Clark College (Clark Atlanta University). He would move to Paris the next year, due to racial discrimination in the United States. Tanner enrolled in the Academie Julian in Paris in 1891, studying under Benjamin Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens. He developed a looser, more poetic painting style in 1900, with which he rendered his travels around the world (Egypt, Algiers, Morocco, Jerusalem, etc.). Tanner made these journeys so that he could portray biblical figures and settings accurately.

The artist’s involvement in World War I and his wife’s death, in 1925, led him toward depression and altered his perspective on art in his later years. He would create less work that focused on biblical themes and more paintings of the war and portraits of African Americans such as Booker T. Washington; these later paintings stayed in his private collection. Tanner’s influence on other artists, especially African Americans, was notable, and he received many awards over the course of his life.

The Georgia Museum of Art owns a painting by Tanner, “Still Life with Apples” (1890), donated to its collection by Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson (along with other works of art by African Americans). Created before Tanner left the United States, it uses dark colors in the background to emphasize the light on the apples in the foreground. Other works by Tanner are in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Des Moines Art Center; the Cincinnati Art Museum; PAFA and many more.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Olivia Winifred Jordan's Sampler: An Statement of Educational Accomplishment and Familial Identity

Olivia Winifred Jordan's Sampler
In around 1828, a young girl, born in 1818, made a sampler that will be a part of the upcoming exhibition "Georgia's Girlhood Embroidery: 'Crowned with Glory and Immortality,'" which will run from October 31, 2015, to February 28, 2016 at the Georgia Museum of Art. Her name was Olivia Winifred Jordan, and she lived in rural Washington County, Georgia. 

Like many young girls of the 18th and 19th centuries, she made an embroidery sampler to demonstrate her needlework skills and her literacy. It contains multiple kinds of marking alphabets, many different kinds of decorative geometric bands and a strawberry border that goes around the entire sampler, which are all utterly commonplace to schoolgirl samplers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In this sense, the surviving sampler is a relic of the system of girlhood education common in a bygone era. Olivia could have been trained in these skills at any one of the many female academies in Georgia, or, most likely, at home by her own mother. 

In another sense, her sampler offers us a glimpse into her unique world. She proudly prints her whole name as "Olivia Winefred Jordan" on the bottom of her sampler. Genealogical research reveals that she was named after both her maternal grandmother, Olivia Bell, and her paternal grandmother, Winifred Jordan. Further research on the family reveals that it was large, extended and close-knit and that family members frequently moved long distances to live with their relatives, a pattern that promoted the entire family's unified migration across the South over the generations. Olivia's sampler clearly reflects this family-centered identity. It also reflects the common way in which samplers and other forms of schoolgirl embroidery were often used to communicate social, political, familial and religious messages. 

Olivia's sampler, then, represents a microcosm of the world that she inhabited, both as a member of her family and as a white middle-class schoolgirl in the antebellum southern United States. It is both a work of folk art and a statement of social identity and is therefore valuable to both those who appreciate art and those who study social history. Those interested in delving more deeply into this topic should take time to visit the museum when the exhibition will be on display. A kit that contains the chart and the material necessary to replicate Olivia's sampler will also be on sale at the Museum Shop during the duration of the exhibition. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Lamar Dodd

No visitor to the University of Georgia, or, in fact, the state of Georgia, can avoid seeing the name Lamar Dodd plastered in all kinds of locations: The Lamar Dodd School of Art (University of Georgia), The Lamar Dodd Art Center (LaGrange College), Lamar Dodd Professional Chair (a real job title), and even "Light one for Lamar" (a real anti-smoking ban protest). With his name being such a part of Georgia vernacular, Lamar Dodd’s actual identity eludes many – wealthy benefactor? Ancient regent?

Lamar Dodd at the Georgia Museum of Art

Dodd is actually one of the South’s most important and influential artists, contributing more than just his name to buildings, schools, and strange protests. His paintings are held in the collections of the Smithsonian, the Whitney, and Metropolitan Museum of Art – and of course at the Georgia Museum of Art – as exemplary pieces of Southern art. He enjoyed commissions from the likes of NASA, and his prolific output still permeates Southern culture, and particularly the Athens community, which Dodd made his home until his death in 1996.

Dodd’s beginnings are rooted in the region. He studied architecture at Georgia Tech, and then taught for a while in Alabama, but finding his greatest interest in painting and developing his own practice, he headed to New York in the late 1920s/early 1930s. This was a wise move – his stylized scenes of Southern landscapes and daily lives charmed New York crowds. Often dark in color, and with heavy black shadows, Dodd’s paintings of the American south appear sombre, yet romantic. This combination led to his first solo show in the city in 1932, and toward a name for introducing a renaissance in Southern art. He soon won the Norman Walt Harris Prize for his painting, “Railroad Cut,” which is now on display at the Georgia Museum of Art. 

Lamar Dodd, "North of Pratt City"

Following this, Dodd was invited to become the artist-in-residence at the University of Georgia, and so gladly returned to Georgia, and the South, to make art and advocate for its inclusionary sharing. He began giving lectures and teaching painting, and was appointed head of an essentially non-existent art department at the university. He expanded its programs, introducing more classes and a variety of courses, funded scholarships, saw the opening of the Georgia Museum of Art, and founded the Cortona Study Abroad program that is still enjoyed by students today, growing the art school until it was the biggest and most influential in the South. He retired in 1967, 16 years after the original residency program that was only intended to last a year. However, Dodd's legacy doesn't just lie with the school – he never ceased painting throughout these years, and exhibitions of his work continue today. The Monehegan Museum in Maine is currently showing a series of his works in an exploration of his 'artistic history.'

Lamar Dodd is an excellent figurehead for our institution as a great leader of the concept that we still work toward today – art for everyone. His name is proudly used to reflect the values that he instilled in (what he didn't know would become) the Lamar Dodd School of Art, and that they maintain in his memory. The school was renamed after him in 1994, not long before Dodd's passing, in celebration and tribute to his contributions to Southern art and its community, and you can visit the Georgia Museum of Art to see some of the paintings from the beginning of this great movement.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Museum Mix

Despite the fact that it happens three times a year, the Georgia Museum of Art’s Museum Mix never fails to send a buzz through the office. This season’s incarnation was no exception (knowing DJ YaTuSabes and D:RC (aka Darcy Reenis) are setting up on the floor below makes it difficult to concentrate), but the excitement is never just ours.

Keep 'em dancing, D:RC!
Last week, nearly 400 Athenians and visitors of all ages joined us at the free event on Thursday night for a full evening of drinks and dancing, helping us get through several cases of PBR and break in a makeshift dance floor after we were forced inside due to the rain. Coinciding with our exhibition of the 20th-century Mexican printmaking of El Taller de Gráfica Popular, the museum’s entire downstairs was mobilized with the aid of salsa dip and salsa music, and we got some great feedback on the opportunity to see this fascinating show in such a special way – late at night and with a glass of wine in hand.

As always, the museum is proud to be at the center of such a fun and engaged community. We love to see both young and old experiencing the museum in such a variety of ways and share our space for such lively events.

Museum Mix continues later this year – we hope to see you at the next one (hopefully rain-free) on October 1.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Artist Spotlight: Elaine de Kooning

Elaine de Kooning in her studio at the University of Georgia, ca. 1967-68.
The multi-faceted life and work of Elaine de Kooning, an equally accomplished artist, writer and teacher, makes her a captivating topic of study. Her contributions to the art world and the arts communities of the early 20th century at the height of the Abstract Expressionist movement mean that she has remained a consistent source of public and art historical fascination, ensuring her position as an arts, and feminist, icon. We’ve explored this, and de Kooning’s striking work in the Georgia Museum of Art’s collection before here on Holbrook’s Trunk, but now, de Kooning is back in the spotlight with an excellent exhibition of her work currently on show at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, and the conversion of her former East Hamptons residence into an inspiring artist colony. Although no survey of this prolific artist can ignore her unsettled marriage to Dutch émigré Willem de Kooning, who would go on to become one of the most revered and renowned artists of their generation, Elaine de Kooning’s accomplishments are decidedly her own, and her position in the history of American art is distinct and continuing.

De Kooning, a native New Yorker, had been creating works for much of her life but did not have her first solo exhibition until the early 1950s, at the city’s Stable Gallery, when she was in her mid-30s. Instead, she had focused on criticism, and became an esteemed writer and editor — she was one of the first critics to take note of the likes of Mark Rothko and became an associate editor at Art News in the late 1940s.

This exhibition at Stable Gallery became the first of many, and as her practice grew more distinctive, so did its public appreciation. While many of her post-war New York contemporaries, the renowned action painters that included her husband Willem, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, were making physical, powerful, Abstract Expressionist works, de Kooning took this gestural style and worked it into more figurative series, often veering into portraiture. This combination of the traditional form of posed portraits with the abstraction that was so attached to the zeitgeist is a fascinating blend that gives a great insight to the cultural landscape of the post-war United States. Elaine’s often faceless representations of the male form, which ranged from anonymous basketball players to her famed commissioned images of John F. Kennedy, pervert or subvert the traditional artist-sitter relationship, and make her sitter subject to a female gaze. The basketball players in particular almost appear as a 20th-century retroversion of Edgar Degas’ amorous, voyeuristic images of young female ballet dancers — nameless, faceless, elegant female forms drawn and painted tirelessly by a 19th-century male at the forefront of Impressionism, 100 years earlier, seeming antiquated alongside de Kooning’s expression of female power.

Elaine de Kooning, "Bacchus #81" (1983)

This progressiveness in de Kooning’s work is what is still recognized and appreciated today — the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington exclusively highlights her portrait work and has been years in the making, and examples of de Kooning's work are featured in collections across the world, from the Guggenheim to the Georgia Museum of Art. “Bacchus #81,” in the collection and on display at the museum, is a mesmerizing example of many of these features, and its position at the museum is a particularly appropriate choice — de Kooning held a long and interesting history with the University of Georgia. She taught at a variety of esteemed institutions from Yale University to the Parsons New School for Design, before settling for some time as a Dodd Visiting Professor here at UGA. She held a studio on campus during this time in the late 1970s, where her artistic output was particularly fruitful. In fact, de Kooning actually began her Bacchus series in this studio at the university, as seen in production in the picture at the top of this post, following an affecting experience with Jules Dalou’s “Le Triomphe de Silene,” a violent sculpture featuring Bacchus and figures in similar forms to those in the painting, in the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris.

“Bacchus #81” is one work in the museum’s collection of nearly 10,000 that is particularly at home. A stone’s throw away from where Elaine de Kooning began its series, it acts as a great representation of the museum’s — and de Kooning’s — contributions to the history of American art.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Artist Spotlight: Elayne Goodman

What do Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage and the Georgia Museum of Art all have in common? They all love and own works by folk artist Elayne Goodman.

Goodman didn’t always have a base of celebrity followers. She came from humble beginnings, born in 1940 in Columbus, Mississippi. Growing up on a farm outside Columbus, Goodman always had a knack for creating unique object, but never considered her work “art” as she had never seen anything similar to compare it to. She spent much of her adult life supporting her family as a surgical nurse but soon returned to school to study her real passion: art.

Goodman credits some aspects of her work to having been born during the Great Depression. During this era, materials were limited, and people had to work with what they had, an influence that continued even after the US economy recovered. She continues to use anything available—wood, fabrics, paint, buttons and beads—to make her art. She can take even the simplest object and turn it into something colorful and intricate.

Today, she has created more than 3,000 works of art and continues to make more. The Georgia Museum of Art is fortunate to have one of her pieces, “American Flag,” detailed with buttons and beads and currently on display on the Patsy Dudley Pate Balcony.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Power of Preservation

Mary Franklin, an Athens native, was born on February 25, 1842. Throughout her lengthy career as an artist, Franklin trained all over the United States and in Paris. After decades of being a student, Ms. Franklin She eventually returned to her roots and taught with the Athens Art Association in Peabody Hall. She loved the University of Georgia so much that, upon her death, in 1928, she donated her entire estate to the school.  Part of this donation included a series of paintings that were hung throughout campus.

Some of Franklin’s works were hung in Soule Hall, where they were respected and admired for many years. During World War II, Soule Hall changed from a women’s dorm to a school for the navy, and the paintings were put into storage.

In the 1970s, these paintings reappeared at the Georgia Museum of Art, with little paperwork. While they had been cared for at one time, they did not arrive unblemished. The paintings suffered from surface loss, cracks, stains and unstable frames with gaping holes. Fortunately, they were about to have a change in luck.

This good fortune came in the form of Hildegard Timberlake, 92, and her son, Tom, 52. Ms. Timberlake had been both the editor and president of the Art Association over the years, and Tom shared her love of the arts. The pair wanted to do something about the condition of Franklin’s prized paintings and decided to make the admirable commitment to restore them to their former glory. They hoped to have the rest of the world enjoy the paintings as they had and found a way to sponsor the conservation.

“My favorite painting is ‘Nomad,’” said Hildegard. “‘Nomad’ is compelling because she acts as a caretaker. But a caretaker of what? Is it nature, is it history, is it political, or is it bonds to the family? The purpose of the caretaker is suggested but not imposing. Mary Franklin's composition of the painting is well done. The color theory is well applied, even outstanding, with its blending method. The expression of the caretaker is sincere with some pride looking down on the observer. Shadows reflect the observance of nature, climate and sunshine. Her body structure shows that she is carrying a burden, but is ready to carry it with pride and strength. A great painting!”

Susan Jones, a conservator from Atlanta, restored the paintings. Jones has a range of experience working with older paintings, including one by Klaus Molenear, a 17th-century Dutch artist. She explained both the challenges and rewards of conserving the Mary Franklin paintings: “Outside of getting the paintings stabilized, I would say that the texture of the canvas was the most difficult part. [Franklin] used a very heavy linen, and although she did not mind putting paint on the canvas, it still left a very rough texture and was a challenge to clean. Aside from that, I loved finally getting down to the original vibrant colors that she used and seeing the paintings come to life.”

“Nomad,” the largest of the paintings, was the first to be restored. The Timberlakes provided funding, and the museum sent the framed painting to Jones in Atlanta. “Nomad” came back in incredible form, and the Timberlakes decided to fund the conservation of another painting from the series, “Tunisian Perfume Market.” The two restored paintings were publicly unveiled and put on temporary display for others to enjoy for the first time in more than 40 years.

Visitors, students and scholars at the Georgia Museum of Art are now able to enjoy the work of Mary Franklin due to the contributions and dedication of the Timberlake family. Franklin gave the University of Georgia the gift of her works, and the Timberlake family gave the gift of preservation, a gift that will last for years.

Hildegard Timberlake's deep affection for the paintings of Mary Franklin caused her to donate funds for the conservation of two paintings in the permanent collection. At this event, the results were shared with the Timberlakes, museum supporters and staff. May 21, 2015.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Jewelry by St. EOM, Georgia Folk Artist and Visionary

St. EOM, Courtesy of Pasaquan Preservation Society

   The Georgia Museum of Art is pleased to announce the acquisition of three bracelets and four necklaces by Georgia artist St. EOM (1908-1986), some of which are pictured below.

Born to a Georgia sharecropping family, he left his home to spend time in an artist’s colony in New York City during the 1920s before coming back down to Georgia and transforming the farm in Marion County that he inherited from his mother into a colorful compound called Pasaquan. Claiming to receive messages and visions from people from the future, he refused to go by his birth name, Eddie Owens Martin, instead going by the moniker “St. EOM,” as he felt it more accurately depicted him as the prophet and visionary that he saw himself as. He created Pasaquan in order to show the intersection of the past, present and future as a seamless whole, combining the visual art from many different cultures, such as patterns from ancient Greece, architectural forms from East Asia and statues inspired by ancient Mayan art. Visitors to Pasaquan are frequently overwhelmed by vibrant color and seemingly endless variety on display throughout the compound.

Sadly, St. EOM died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1986, but his legacy is now preserved by the Pasaquan Preservation Foundation and by the Kohler Foundation, who are now restoring Pasaquan to its original glory.

St. EOM’s jewelry that the Georgia Museum of Art recently acquired also displays the same love for vibrant color and the use of motifs from many cultures.

For more information, see: