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Montgomery Museum of Fine Art

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Month: May 2014

Sahara of the Bozeart—Say What?

In November of 1917, in the New York Evening Mail, essayist and journalist H. L. Mencken first published a version of his essay entitled The Sahara of the Bozeart. Reprinted in a compilation of essays in 1920 (Prejudices: Second Series) this essay, condemning the South as a “cultural wasteland,” caused quite a stir. In several thousand words Mencken damned the region as “that gargantuan paradise of the fourth-rate,” and although defenders of Southern society and culture rose up in its defense, his pronouncements were regularly repeated, and for generations the South was consistently branded as “sterile, artistically, intellectually, culturally, as the Sahara Desert.”

This unfortunate, and even in Mencken’s era inaccurate, reputation was one reason it was difficult for artists living and working in the South to find their way to acceptance within the larger art world in the early twentieth century. Those who wished to make a professional career of art, such as Ann Goldthwaite and Clara Weaver Parrish, quickly took themselves to art schools in New York and Paris in order to obtain the necessary “credentials.” Later, other artists found this journey more difficult, and less rewarding.

C_Gillis_blog2Late last year the Museum acquired an important watercolor for the permanent collection by one such artist, the Selma painter Crawford Gillis (1914–2000), In Custody (Project for a Southern Armory), 1936, watercolor on paper, Gift of George W. and Sue Royer, Jr., 2013.13. In Custody is a powerful indictment of Southern society in the 1930s. It is evident from the painting’s composition—a frightened black man in the custody of National Guardsmen—that he was referencing the social climate that predominated during the years of the Great Depression, in which poor people both black and white were subject to harsh living conditions, and sometimes brutalized by authorities. The painting’s subtitle, Project for a Southern Armory, was most likely an ironic reference to the possibility that an image such as this one would be an appropriate mural subject to place in an armory building that was planned for Selma. When asked if he had witnessed what transpired in the composition, he told the reviewer that, “I didn’t see it. They announced they would build a new armory in my town, and this is the way I felt it would work out.”

Gillis is an example of a talented Alabama artist who was fully dedicated to his work but unfortunately lived in an era when achieving wider recognition was complicated—first by the Great Depression and then by the disruptions of World War II. In addition, he fought the C_Gillis_blogprejudices of a society that accepted Mencken’s opinions as gospel—since there was no culture in Alabama, as Mencken adjudged it, there would be no artists.

This attitude created a challenge for those who saw Crawford Gillis’ insightful works on exhibit in a New York gallery in 1938—and then had to come to terms with his origins in the South. The reviewers of the January exhibition essentially dealt with the perceived contradiction by patronizing the artist characterizing him as “self-taught” despite the fact that he had studied art for many years in Selma, and then attended the National Academy of Design, studying under Charles Courtney Curran (1861–1942) and Leon Kroll (1884–1974). In spite of these quite acceptable art world credentials the reviewers did not get past his “past”.

While H. L. Mencken was no admirer of the South, by 1930 he would have at least found something to admire in Montgomery. In that year the founders of the MMFA created the State’s first art museum, and Mencken himself married a Montgomery girl, Sara Haardt, who was a Professor of English at Goucher College. Ever since Montgomery’s art museum has been proving that prejudices are just that, and that art is indeed alive and well in the “Sahara of the Bozeart.”

Jerry Siegel, Crawford Gillis, 1994, Collection of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University

Margaret Lynne Ausfeld
Curator of Art

 

Tour could put MMFA in National Spotlight

P405_blogIt’s a conference that could gain the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts worldwide attention. 40 writers and bloggers from as far away as Canada and Australia took a four-day tour of the Capital city. They are known as the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association.

Writers David and Mary Gayle Sartwell of Bradenton, Florida walked into the Museum around 11:30 Thursday morning.  David Gayle says he wants his readers to have an understanding of what to do and where to go when they visit Montgomery.  “What we look for are personal interests, things in particular like Hank Williams and black history.” He says after growing up in the North he wants to look at the past and see how the city of Montgomery has progressed over the years.  His wife Mary says, “There’s more culture here than I presumed. I came here with an open mind not knowing what to expect.”

P410_blogP408_blogMMFA’s Curator of Art, Jennifer Jankauskas, gave the Sartwells and others a tour of 11 of the Museum’s galleries.  Author, Judith Glynn, is from New York City.  Glynn shared her goals as a writer. “We want to give a first hand introduction to the city.  It’s our responsibility to tell readers what we saw.” Lamont Mackay travels from Blenheim Ontario, Canada. “This museum is spectacular, so open.  It has a wonderful look and feel.”

Each member of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association provide press coverage through articles, blog posts, and social media. They made the Museum’s ARTWORKS interactive gallery and learning center the final stop on their 30-minute tour. It appeared to be a favorite with the guests. P413_blogMary Gayle says, “The child in me is coming alive again. I have been to a lot of science museums. This is one of the best I have seen.” Mackay says, “It makes you want to be a kid again. This will be a hook in my story. I am excited to write about this.”

The group wrapped up their visit with lunch at the MMFA’s Café M. Our staff was delighted the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce chose the Museum as one of the destinations for these writers to visit.  We hope their publications will spread word about the quality Montgomery’s art museum has to offer.

Cynthia Milledge
Director of Marketing and Public Relations

 

 

Ending on a High Note

The monthly book club, Ekphrasis, ended the season on a high note! Margaret Lynne Ausfeld curator of art gave a stimulating presentation about the life of Zelda Fitzgerald (Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler), beginning with music – Witchy Woman by the Eagles (“woo hoo witchy woman see how high she flies”) to set the mood – and proceeding with an exploration of Zelda’s life through photography and art in the Museum’s permanent collection.

zelda_bookclub_blogWith fifty people in attendance, the program’s success was the culmination of a tremendous year, which included Skype discussions with prominent authors Susan Vreeland (Life Studies: A Novel), Ross King (The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World Impressionism), and special visiting author Nancy G. Heller (Why a Painting is Like a Pizza).

Stay tuned for another exciting year!

Timothy P. Brown
Curator of Education

FLIMP Festival 2014 is a hit in Montgomery

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Four hours of creative, innovative, and family-friendly entertainment attracted a crowd of more than 2300 spectators to this year’s 25th-annual FLIMP festival.  A cool breeze accompanied by plenty of sunshine made for a spectacular day, and the first partnership between the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and Booker T. Washington Magnet High School made it one to remember.

The question everyone asked during Saturday’s event was, “Exactly what is a FLIMP?”  Even though they weren’t sure of the answer, that didn’t stop participants from getting their faces IMG_1383wpainted, making and breaking piñatas, or enjoying other arts and crafts.  Just when you thought you had seen it all, nearly two-dozen dogs, decked out from head to paw, strolled through the parking lot for the return of the Do-Dah parade. That procession actually helped four canines get adoptedIMG_1235w from the Montgomery Humane Society.

The echoes of voices from BTW’s choir and the melodies from the school’s band filled the air as everyone walked the grounds of the MMFA.  For those who didn’t want to be outside, no worries, there was plenty of entertainment on the inside of the Museum.  Who knew you could take an animal’s bones and other objects and turn them into a jam session?  Drummer Dave Holland showed a packed gallery, how to do just that.  Holland even let them volunteer to be part of his percussion section.

As this year’s festival came to a close, the reminder of two fun-filled days shared among local students and adults remained on display from 2014’s Chalk Art competition. If you drive out right now, you might still be able to get a glimpse of the chalk artists’ transformation of the front parking lot into an art gallery.

However, don’t worry if you missed out on all the fun this year. The FLIMP Festival will take place at the same place and time next year. We will plan on welcoming you then.

Cynthia Milledge
Director of Marketing and Public Relations

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