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A Thomas Hart Benton for the MMFA

Benton.BlogThursday, May 21, 2015 marked a significant milestone in the history of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and its collection.  At around 10:30 that morning, the Museum purchased Ozark Autumn, 1949, by the Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton (American, 1889–1975) for its American paintings collection. It is the first painting by one of the three major American Regionalist painters—Benton, John Steuart Curry, and Grant Wood—to enter the collection.   Acquiring a painting by one of the artists from this particular school of American art was long considered an important goal for our MMFA collection because the Museum owns a significant number of works by Southern Regionalist painters who were contemporaries of Benton and the others. J. Kelly Fitzpatrick and his students formed a “mini-Regionalist” cohort here in the heart of Alabama, and these works were the foundation of the MMFA collection that began in 1930.
Benton.Blog.4Thomas Hart Benton was a controversial and influential character in both the art and social worlds in early and mid-twentieth century America.  After study and the practice of art in Paris and New York, Benton’s outspokenness, writings, and large-scale public mural projects made him a voice for national political and art issues in Depression-era America.  Early in his career he worked for a time as a modernist painter, but he eventually abandoned that style to pursue one rooted in traditional European art, creating murals with distinctly “American” themes that resonated with the public.  He is best known for his mural cycles such as America Today (now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York), and his massive composition for the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City. His association with Wood and Curry, along with a December 1934, Time magazine cover story about Benton’s work, allowed him to settle into his permanently defined role as a Regionalist painter. (Above: Registrar Pamela Bransford and MMFA Consulting Conservator Larry Shutts examine the Museum’s latest acquisition.)
The acquisition of this critical work was made possible only by the amazing legacy of Ida Belle Young, who bequeathed the Museum funds for the purchase of “traditional American art” upon her death in 2004. However having the resources for a purchase was only one factor in acquiring the appropriate work.  The staff made a concerted effort for more than seven years to locate “the right Benton” before Ozark Autumn became available.  This work possessed two attributes that were considered critical—as a larger scale work in oil and tempera it could be put on long-term view with our other important American paintings (unlike a work on paper which is subject to damage over time from exposure to light), and the subject was an agrarian one depicting a corn harvesting scene.  Since many of our Southern Regionalist works depict the rural South, it was important to us that our Benton reflect that same agrarian tradition.
And yet a second exciting day dawned on August 31, when we finally unveiled this outstanding work of art for our MMFA Board of Trustees. The event, held in the Museum’s Rotunda at 5:30 P.M., celebrated the support of the Board, the generosity of Ida Belle Young, and the City of Montgomery’s ongoing belief in our mission to the community.Benton.Blog.3  The painting was given a very warm and hearty welcome, accompanied by a toast to the memory of Ida Belle Young, whose gift in the form of the Ida Belle Young Art Acquisition Fund had made its acquisition possible.(Right: Acquisition Committee Chairman Winnie Stakely and MMFA President of the Board of Trustees Roger Spain unveil Ozark Autumn)
For any collecting museum the addition of a truly major work of art is a rare event, and one that contributes to the ongoing vitality of the institution.  It takes a concerted team effort to achieve the Museum’s mission “to collect, preserve, exhibit and interpret art of the highest quality.” This acquisition of Ozark Autumn, and the many people that worked to get it to Montgomery, is a testament to what that mission statement is really all about.Benton.Blog.2

Margaret Lynne Ausfeld
Curator of Art

MAG Featured Artist Clark Walker Discusses His Art and Demonstrates Its Creation

walker1blogrevisedArtists rarely have the opportunity to see their work in museum galleries, and the public rarely has the chance to hear artists discuss their work that is on display in museum galleries. On Sunday, June 28, Clark Walker and River Region art aficionados were able to enjoy these rare treats.

Walker conducted an informal gallery talk in the Museum galleries that are temporarily devoted exclusively to his retrospective show that is part of the 41st Montgomery Art Guild Museum Exhibition. Two-dozen paintings and drawings on loan from a dozen local collectors comprise the show. The artist also demonstrated his drawing techniques.

walker3blogrevisedStanding at an easel in the Museum library, felt-tipped pen in hand, surrounded by admiring fans and collectors of his work, the artist showed how he typically begins drawings of faces with the eyes, then nose, mouth, and finally the silhouette of the head—all with an economical use of line. He explained in his typical deadpan manner that he paints the same way, “in my underwear.” It was not the first laugh he elicited from the crowd of forty people, nor the last. Nor was it the only insight he provided on how he draws and paints the “circus people,” “curb market people,” and countless cats and still-life compositions that have earned him well deserved respect among Montgomery art connoisseurs and collectors.

An illustrated brochure that documents the exhibition is available for free in the galleries, and may be downloaded free as a PDF from the Museum’s website. The 41st Montgomery Art Guild Museum Exhibition with Featured Artist Clark Walker is on display through Sunday, August 9.

Michael Panhorst
Curator of Art


41st Montgomery Art Guild Museum Exhibition Opens


Blog.ArtGuildThe 41st Montgomery Art Guild Museum Exhibition opened Friday night, June 12, with a festive reception attended by more than 400 people. The highlight of the evening was the announcement of 24 awards worth a total of $22,645. The Museum appreciates the work that Thornton Clark, the Art Guild’s show chair, has done to raise the money for these awards, encouraging the participation of so many accomplished artists. Museum Director Mark Johnson said, “We are also grateful to the many generous supporters, including the Museum’s 2014 Junior Executive Board, Sterling Bank, and Margaret Berry Lowder, who helped to sponsor this exhibition.”Blog.ArtGuild2015

The juror, Tom Butler, Director Emeritus of the Columbus (GA) Museum, selected 97 items from 427 entries by 127 artists. 38 artists entered for the first time, and 27 of those first-timers were among the 74 artists selected. Butler also presented the following awards (dimensions are in inches, height before width before depth). (At right: Director Mark Johnson and Juror Tom Butler.)


$3000 Noble Seay Jones Best In Show Award
Chie A. Hitchner, Unfolding, Weaving (108×28) (At left: Best-in-Show winner Chie A. Hitchner)
$2500 MMFA Director’s Award
Cicely Hulett, Genesis, Mixed media (48×48)
$1000 AUM College of Arts and Sciences Award
Dale Lewis, Heart of Gold, Wood and metal (30x9x9)
$1000 Thornton and Pat Clark Award
Lindy Bruggink, Casey in Black, Oil on panel (17×14)



$1000 Doster Award
Larry Percy, KERYGMA SERIES: Journeys to Holy Ghost Canyon XX/Dodged Bullet: Incident
401, Saggar fired earthenware, charred wood, concrete (53x19x14)
$1000 Kelly Fitzpatrick Award
Pamela Wesley Copeland, Rouen Nights, Oil (30×24)
$1000 Foy Gilmore Goodwyn Memorial Fund Award
Sheri Schumacher, Margins, Mixed media textiles (50×38)
$1000 Halvorson Award
Kate Seawell, Cadmium Orange, Mixed media monotype (24×32)
$1000 Moore Wealth Management Award
Michael Vaughn Sims, Mount Carmel, Mixed media (33x22x20)
$1000 Edward L. Robbins Award
Joan DiLaura, Irises, Mixed media, (28×22)
$1000 Jimmie Sabel Award
Richard Mills, The Poletoads Nesting in Lucerne, Watercolor, gouache, collage (40×50)
$1000 Vivian Butler Scott Award
Amber Hall, Tornado Aftermath at Lake Martin East I, Oil on canvas (30×60)
$1000 Chuck Whitehead Award for Figurative or Portrait Art
Scott Crockett, Self-Portrait, Graphite (27×21)
$500 2014 MMFA Junior Executive Board First-Time Entrant Award
Warren Simons, Palm Tree Repairs, Digital inkjet print on paper (33×24)
$500 Vincent Cappelluzzo Award for Figurative or Portrait Art
Cecile W. Morgan, Different Drummer, Oil (33×27)
$500 Doug’s 2 Award
Virginia Wolfe, Out to Paint the Town Red, Watercolor (26×22)
$500 The Sandra Hicks Larson Award
Donna Pickens, Variations on the Ladder Theme, Charcoal, conti, collage, graphite (20×27)
$500 McKenzie Award
Margaret Gluhman, Journey: Unknown, Collage (20×16)
$500 Midstate Advertising Award
Darrell C. Warr, Blue Haze, Oil (25×29)
$500 Terrell Stokes Award
Carol Barksdale, Indigo Vibes, Mixed media (24×36)
$500 Clark Walker Award
Rachael Sherer, Rodrigo, Oil (48×24)

Three Art Galleries and Artists of the South Advertisement Awards Donated by AGAS Publishing
Kay Alkire Brummal, Depth Perception, Color photograph on paper (24×28)
Ken Lever, Bow-Legged, Wood, (12x20x14) (At right)
Don Norris, Carpenter Romanesque, Monroe County, Alabama, Digital inkjet print on paper, (23×16)ArtGuild.Blog3

The MMFA and the Montgomery Art Guild’s partnership has again produced an outstanding exhibition representing the best contemporary art in the River Region.

Michael Panhorst
Curator of Art

History Marches On in Montgomery

On Thursday, March 19, the Museum hosted an opening reception and lecture for our current exhibition History Refused to Die: Alabama’s African-American Self-Taught Artists in Context.  The exhibition was organized by the MMFA in collaboration with the Alabama Center for Contemporary Art in Mobile, the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, and Tinwood, LLC, in Atlanta, Georgia.   

HRD-3artsts.blogThe artists featured in this exhibition all worked in Alabama in the mid to late- twentieth century, and, with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March, it seemed there would never be a more appropriate time to present these works for Alabama audiences. A book published by Tinwood, LLC, also entitled History Refused to Die, documents the works and the theme of the project as a whole: an examination of the history of African-Americans in the state as seen through the eyes of these extraordinary artists.  (Pictured at left: Louisiana Bendolph, collector Bill Arnett, Thornton Dial, Sr. and Richard Dial)

Guests at the opening on Thursday evening had the rare pleasure of greeting six of the fifteen artists whose works are on view. They included Thornton Dial, Sr., his son Richard Dial, Charlie Lucas, Lonnie Holly, Joe Minter (at right), and quilt maker Louisiana Bendolph. It was a poignant moment in the history of Alabama art, since many of these artists are advanced in years, and, while their artwork has previously been exhibited in museums around the United States and overseas, they had never seen their art installed in an Alabama museum. This powerful and moving art reflects the larger context of the history of African-American culture in Alabama and the South, from slavery in the nineteenth century, to the migration from rural to urban centers in the twentieth century.  Using non-traditional materials such as metals, plastics, organic or plant-based material, these works bridge the gap between daily life and the world of art—demonstrating a profound respect for the process we today call “recycling,” but that the  artists see as a means to   link the present with a vibrant past.

HRD_Charlie2-blogHRD-Lonnie.blogThe Museum will be hosting a number of programs in conjunction with this exhibition including talks by Loyd Howard on Thursday, April 2, and a special audio-visual presentation by Randall Williams on Thursday, April 23.  We invite you to review all the programs listed in the calendar on the website, or call 244-4333 for more information.  Don’t miss this outstanding exhibition, and all the thought-provoking programs associated with it. (Shown above: Curator Margaret Lynne Ausfeld, Charlie Lucas, and Museum Director Mark Johnson; Lonnie Holley talking with Joe Minter.)

Margaret Lynne Ausfeld
Curator of Art

Reflecting on…Myrna Colley-Lee’s Visit to the MMFA

EX.myrna2.blogLast week we were excited to welcome Myrna Colley-Lee to the MMFA. Myrna is, of course, the collector of the superb works on view in the exhibition Reflections: African American Life from the Myrna Colley-Lee Collection, which was organized by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC in collaboration with the office of Myrna Colley-Lee.

On Thursday, February 19 we began with a reception to celebrate the exhibition. Moving into the auditorium, with about 75 people who braved the unusual cold, Myrna and I embarked on a discussion touching on many topics including her collecting process and insights into her own artistic practice as a costume designer.

EX.myrna1.blogA pioneer in the Black Theater Movement, Myrna has worked on over 70 productions since the late 1960s. In her intense research for her designs she often references works that are in her collection. In our discussion, Myrna revealed that she is attracted to works that are a celebration of African-American life. She finds that so important in this day and age when the media often focus on violence or troubling aspects of African-American experiences. Works that resonate with her love of the South, particularly with the landscape of her home in the Mississippi Delta, also appeal. Sometimes, they remind her of certain people, for example, Myrna sees Oprah Winfrey in a scene from The Women of Brewster Place in Ernest EX.reflections-blogCrichlow’s Window, 1987. Mryna went on to explain how she has formed relationships with many of the artists she collects, and that she often acquires works through auctions that support causes she believes in.

At a luncheon the following day, Myrna met with our Collectors Society to talk more directly about her costume designs for several productions. Through a PowerPoint presentation she drew parallels to works in her collection such as Eudora Welty’s Window Shopping, c.1930 that proved inspirational in her own designs. At the end, she reflected on how her collection has become such an important part of her life—and is a true reflection of her.

The MMFA was thrilled to have Myna here and thanks her for sharing her wonderful collection. In addition we would like to thank the sponsor of the exhibition here in Montgomery, Hyundai, and our co-sponsor, Max Credit Union.

Jennifer Jankauskas
Curator of Art

Bazaar d’Art will feature ten works by Selma painter John Lapsley

Lapsley_Flower_Market_BLOGFor those interested in collecting work by Southern artists, this year’s Bazaar d’Art will present a very rare opportunity to acquire paintings by the Selma artist John Lapsley (1915–2005). Lapsley was an important Alabama painter/printmaker whose works date from the 1930s into the early part of the twenty-first century. The works being offered in the MMFA’s biennial silent auction reflect his passionate interest in the style of the French Post-Impressionists such as Edouard Vuillard (French, 1868–1940), Pierre Bonnard (French, 1867–1947), and the great French modernist Henri Matisse (1869–1944). His bright, colorful, and light-filled compositions were inspired by the style of these artists, however his subject matter was typically taken from his hometown in Selma, or the landscape and cultural environment of the American South.

Paintings by John Lapsley have graced the walls of central Alabama homes for many years; he was a prolific artist who exhibited widely during his later career. However, it is very unusual for ten works of this quality to be offered at one time. This opportunity has been made possible by a very generous donation from the Estate of Betty Baldwin, and by Nancy Buzard, both long-time Museum supporters. Betty’s nieces—Marcia Weese, Shirley Weese Young, and Kate Weese—joined with Nancy to make this wonderful gesture in support of the Lapsley_Sailboats_blogMuseum’s programs and mission in memory of their aunt, who passed away last year. Betty and Nancy were friends of the artist, and most of the works offered were acquired by them around the time they were painted. This circumstance makes this opportunity even more unusual, as when purchased on the secondary market, there are often questions regarding a work’s origin or its condition.

The works will go on view Saturday, February 21, at 10:00 A.M. and remain open for silent bidding until the Bazaar d’Art cocktail party on Thursday, March 5, beginning at 7:00 P.M. You may buy advance tickets at this link or call 334-240-4333 for more information.

Margaret Lynne Ausfeld
Curator of Art

Don’t Miss the Fifth Annual Artist Market

Randy_shoults_1136Just in time for the holiday season, 30 local and regional artists will showcase their outstanding works of art this coming weekend at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Art’s highly acclaimed Artist Market 2014. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to find one-of-a-kind, handmade gifts for everyone on your list.

The festivities kick off Friday, November 21, with a Preview Party from 5:30 to 8 P.M.

You can shop and get up close and personal with the artists while enjoying hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. The fun continues on Saturday, November 22, from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. Shop early on either day to get the best selection of all the wonderful works that will be


This year’s featured special artist is Elayne Goodman of Columbus, Mississippi, a contemporary self-taught artist who will show her distinctive, brilliantly colored decorative objects. Other artists on hand will be potter Margaret Barber, stone craftsman Brooks Barrow, potter Dianne Benefield, book maker Robin Birdwell, leather artisan Pam Buwalda, painter Joan DiLaura, and mixed media artist Darrell Ezekiel. The showcased artworks include pottery, drawings, and paintings and a host of other media.CarolineW_Sayre_w


Store_artist.blogWhile you are here, feel free to stop by the Museum Store from 11 A.M. to 4 P.M. to shop for even more examples of artist-made works, or make a reservation for the special “Artist Market Edition” of our popular Saturday Brunch at Café M from 10 A.M. till 2 P.M.

Artist Market 2014 is sponsored by STIFEL investment services. For more information, call 240-4333 or go to this link on the website We look forward to seeing you at Artist Market 2014.


Cynthia Milledge
Public Relations and Marketing Director



1991-IV Looking Like New Again

Museum staff recently reinstalled the three graceful, gilded, 14-foot-long aluminum arcs in the lake adjacent to the building—just in time for the arrival of wintering flocks of cormorants that love to perch on the kinetic sculpture and circle above tasty, unsuspecting fish.

In fact, it was the strong talons of these large waterfowl that abraded the original gold leaf applied by the artist, Edward Lee Hendricks, in 1991 when the sculpture was new. After two decades of seasonal ornithological onslaught, all trace of the gilding was gone, and the golden color contrast with the silvery lake was lost.

Consequently, the museum developed a plan to restore the color by reapplying gold leaf—and adding an innovative new protective clear coating. McKay-Lodge Art Conservation of Oberlin, Ohio proposed and implemented the treatment.

Now viewers can appreciate the site-specific sculpture as the artist intended. The Museum commissioned Hendricks to make the art to link the Museum and its contents with the natural beauty of the park. He purposely sited this sculpture in this place to capitalize on the reflective lake surface, the tree line in the distance, and the wind.

The artist said he wanted to make sculptures that “give physical substance to the grace and power of the wind. Geometric elements of aluminum and stainless steel are carefully designed to maximize their response to the slightest breeze…. The interaction of these elements with wind and sunlight creates a visual counterpoint that is aesthetically satisfying on a very basic level.”

Hendricks’ kinetic sculptures respond beautifully to the forces of nature. With new gilding and a new protective coating, they should satisfy viewers, and cormorants, for years to come.

Restoration of the gold leaf on the arcs was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Michael W. Panhorst, Ph.D.
Curator of Art

Call me Trim Tab—Twelve Degrees of Freedom Restored

B_Fuller_Karsh_blogRichard Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983), who preferred to be called Bucky, wrote more than 30 books, earned 28 U.S. patents, circumnavigated the globe 57 times, and coined the term “Spaceship Earth.” Along the way, he invented the Dymaxion (short for dynamic maximum tension) house and car, and he popularized the geodesic dome, an efficient but often leaky structure designed and built through application of the principle of tensegrity.

Tensegrity is the balance of forces of tension (cables) and compression (rods) that the artist patented. His 1962 patent defines tensegrity as “the physical phenomenon that produces a stable geometric structure with solid members that are arranged in tandem with tense metal cables. The solid members of this system do not touch or support each other directly.B_Fuller_damage_blog

The spare beauty of the principle of tensegrity is aptly demonstrated in Twelve Degrees of Freedom (and by Fuller himself in a photograph by Yousuf Karsh, 2009.9.2), but not long ago that sculpture was limp and unable to stand on its small tripodal foot as originally designed because an accident in the galleries stretched its plastic-coated, braided steel wires.

B_Fuller_art_blogFortunately, a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) enabled the museum to employ McKay-Lodge Fine Arts Conservation of Oberlin, Ohio to restore the sculpture. After careful research into the design and fabrication of the sculpture, which was produced in Fuller’s architectural studios in Cleveland, conservator Tom Podnar painstakingly measured, knotted, and inserted each of the eighteen replacement wires and fitted their knotted ends into holes in the rods and the central sphere so that the entire geometric structure attained a rigid state. Only in that condition will the sculpture stand on one of its tiny tripodal feet as designed. Podnar’s persistence has paid off. Once again viewers can appreciate Twelve Degrees of Freedom as the artist intended.

This sculpture is part of Triad, a group of three similar tensegrity sculptures of rods and cables that Fuller designed and fabricated in an authorized edition of ten around 1982. Some of those are now in the collection of the Buckminster Fuller Institute in Philadelphia. Fuller made a few other sculptures like these, but most of his formidable creativity was focused on functional structures in a lifelong quest, as he said, “to find what a single individual [could] contribute to changing the world and benefitting all humanity.”

Fuller said, “call me Trim Tab.” That is the tiny adjustable flap on the trailing edge of an ocean liner’s rudder that creates a low pressure area, easing the movement of the relatively small rudder that steers the massive ship. Bucky made a career of applying minimal amounts of energy to effect maximal results, designing efficient sculptures, houses, cars, and other components of Spaceship Earth to achieve sustainable systems that maintain nature’s delicate balance.

Michael W. Panhorst, Ph.D
Curator of Art

Susan Vreeland makes a virtual appearance

On Wednesday, September 10, Susan Vreeland joined us for a Skype video discussion about her latest book, Lisette’s List: A Novel.

As we began our discussion, Vreeland positioned herself in front of the webcam to give us an intimate view of her appearance (although she jokingly admitted that the real reason was to hide her messy office). Vreeland captivated us with her wit and infectious humor as she shared with us background information about the novel, as well as personal anecdotes. For example, during her student years, Vreeland chose to study music appreciation rather than art. She attributed this outcome to her old roommate who complained about an art history course and the burden of having to remember so many dates and the monotony of slides that all seemed to blur together. Fortunately, this did not discourage her from learning about art, collecting art books, and traveling around the world to places like France to quench her thirst for the world’s finest art treasures. As Vreeland once remarked:

“Coming out of the Louvre for the first time in 1971, dizzy with new love, I stood on Pont Neuf and made a pledge to myself that the art of this newly discovered world in the Old World would be my life companion. Never had history been more vibrant, its voices more resonating, its images more gripping.”

A video tour of Roussillon, the setting for Vreeland’s novel

Most of Vreeland’s novels (with the exception of her first book What Love Sees) were inspired by art (thank goodness!) and Lisette’s List was another literary treat. Beginning in 1937, Lisette and her husband André Honoré Roux moved from Paris to the village of Roussillon to stay with Andre’s grandfather, Pascal, who owned paintings by Cezanne and Pissarro. Pascal, who worked in the ochre mines of Roussillon, provided frames for the artists in exchange for paintings. Pascal eventually passed away and André died unexpectedly during World War II, leaving Lisette alone to struggle through her bereavement, while continuing to search for a rare collection of modern art that mysteriously disappeared. In the process, she discovered the value of friendship, community, and the transformational power of art.

The novel was a wonderful story about modern art, culture, and regional history, but it was Susan Vreeland’s special appearance that made the story enduring and timeless.

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