Closed today

Montgomery Museum of Fine Art

Closed today

Category: Collection

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

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

A History Worth Saving

Scrapbk_blog220About three years ago, the Museum staff began identifying and digitizing photographs and other documents that record the history of the institution, which was founded in 1930. The project was planned and initiated through the efforts of Tara Sartorius in conjunction with our Collections Information Specialist, Sarah Puckitt, and the project is now managed by Sarah who continues to add data when her schedule permits. This “digital archive” is in its earliest stages, but already we can see the long-term value and usefulness of preserving our institutional memory in digital form.

Paper has always been a perilous material for storing information over time. All paper (the kind we write on, the kind we print copies on, and even photographic paper) is largely acidic; the non-acidic kind is now too expensive to be used for much other than making and preserving artwork. So when the process of scanning existing images and documents became more widely available and cost effective, the Museum started using computer hard drives to store our archival data. While it has its challenges, digital records are the future of archive management, and we are already somewhat ahead of the curve.

Archives_blogThe 2014 year-long celebration of our 25th anniversary in the Blount Cultural Park provided significant impetus for our efforts to locate and scan images of the Museum during its first twenty-five years, when we were located in an old school building downtown. A desire to focus on the early art collection also prompted us to look at the roots of the institution in its early years and to revisit our now distant past. It was fascinating to find images of the previous Museum buildings and the programs that gave rise to the ones we offer now.

McDonough_constr_blogA tangible result of our efforts to digitize the institutional history in a well-organized database was the timeline of early Museum history titled Origins • A Timeline of the MMFA. Produced in conjunction with the Origins exhibition which was on view this past summer and online at the link above, the timeline encapsulates through photographs and brief text the development of the Museum and its collection on Lawrence Street.

Through our website, via email, and through social media, the Museum will increasingly use digital means to communicate with our audiences. By preserving a digital heritage of the MMFA, subsequent generations of Museum visitors will have the resources to explore our development as the primary visual arts institution in the River Region for the last eighty-four years.

Margaret Lynne Ausfeld
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

Drawing With Color and Light

Glass_Littleton_blogFor almost 20 years, the MMFA has collected and interpreted art from the American Studio Glass movement from artists who use glass to draw with color and light. Recently we had the chance to acquire two works that greatly expand and enhance not only our collection, but also the understanding of the history of contemporary glass. First is Orange Triple Movement, 1983, by Harvey Littleton (American, 1922–2014), the man internationally recognized as the “Father of the Studio Glass movement”. This inventive work comes from one of his best-known series: Topological Geometry. In this piece Littleton utilized gravity to pull, bend, and shape the glass into elegant layers of flowing orange tones—a hue that is difficult to control.  In fact, the success Littleton found with the challenges of this piece made it one of his favorites.

The second acquisition is an innovative work by the influential collaborative team of Joey Kirkpatrick and Flora Mace (American, born 1952 and 1949).  Doll Drawing with Rebecca, 1983 features a unique process pioneered by the two artists. Liking the quality of a drawn line, they decided to use thin metal wires to replicate pencil marks in the glass.  The “drawings” are filled in with colored glass before they embed it all in clear glass and form the vessel. This piece is an early example of their work and complements sculptures from a later series of glass fruit, also part of the MMFA Permanent Collection.Glass_Kirk-Mace_blog

Both pieces, along with many other works, are now on view in our freshly reinstalled Weil Atrium gallery.  Come out to see both of them as well as the many other pieces that will dazzle and delight your eyes.

If you’d like to learn more, you can hear Harvey Littleton describe his inspiration and process by going online to an interview hosted by the Archives of American Art. The interview is found at

Jennifer Jankauskas
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



Early Modern

MaxWeber_LibCongress_blogThe painter Max Weber was one of the first American artists to personally experience the art world in Paris in the first decade of the twentieth century, a time of amazing transition in the history of art. In Weber’s case, this experience included meeting and learning from artists like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Henri Rousseau, and taking tea at the salon hosted by art collectors Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo… in other words he was in the heart of it.

After his return to the U.S. in 1909, Weber created a range of work that was influenced by the Cubists initially, but his style regularly evolved over his forty-year career. The MMFA’s most recent acquisition, using funds bequeathed by Ida Belle Young in 2007, is a painting by Weber created during the 1920s when he had moved to Long Island. (below: View of Roslyn, New York, ca. 1922-1925, oil on canvas) It is a landscape depicting the village of Roslyn on the north shore of Long Island, painted from a vantage point just across a body of water known as the Roslyn Pond. While representational (we can readily see trees, town, and pond), it is also clearly in keeping with the reductive tendencies of Modernism—buildings composed of simple geometric shapes and the rest a symphony of varied brushstrokes in green, blue, rust, and tan. Though he largely left Picasso’s Cubism behind, he maintained a love of the style of the French Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne, who created monumental landscapes in this same palette and with the same intent: to capture the soul of this peaceful place in paint.

MaxWeber_blogWhen Weber moved to Long Island in 1921 he and his wife left the urban bustle of upper Manhattan for a quieter natural environment where they could raise a family. They purchased a small house about five miles south of Roslyn, and the artist purchased a car (he named it Dinky) so that he could drive the rural roads looking for likely subjects. The Museum’s painting View of Roslyn, New York, is one of a number of works he painted while he lived in this house near Garden City.

Our Museum collection has grown significantly with the additions made using the funds provided by Ida Belle Young’s gift. Most of these works were made in the nineteenth century and have helped to enhance and further shape the core collection of works given by Winton Blount in 1989, and expand the resources our educators use to teach about the development of American art. When the Weber became available, it was immediately clear that this painting was going to play a significant role in our collection—it opens a chapter that takes viewers into twentieth-century art and introduces the modernist approach to art and design that dominated in Europe and America for years to come. It is a much-needed addition to our collection, and we look forward to sharing it with our audiences when it is installed next month.

Arthur D. Chapman, Max Weber, 1914, platinum print, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-90145]

Margaret Lynne Ausfeld
Curator of Art

The process behind Creator/Created

Blog_jjOur newest exhibition, Creator/Created: Jerry Siegel Portraits and Artists from the Permanent Collection just opened. This was a particularly fun exhibition to put together.  The idea started through conversations with Jerry who’s been photographing Southern artists for over 15 years.  In looking through his images we realized that the MMFA has many of these artists’ works in our collection and we thought by pairing photo and artwork together we could present a unique view into the works of art, the artists themselves, and their artistic process.  Going through our collection to select which of these artists’ works to feature was a real treat for me. I got to dive in and really begin to understand the breadth and depth of works by regional artists that we own in addition to all the other fantastic pieces in our collection.

Jerry is a wonderfully generous artist and I think his portraits speak to that; he really captures the essence of each of these personalities. When Jerry photographs his subjects, he takes multiple shots and often prints in both black and white and color. For the exhibition, we decided to use only the black and white images to present Jerry’s photographs as a cohesive body of work since we spread them throughout the galleries.  blog_iPadHe and I met several times to look at prints (both working and final) and to choose what worked best in this particular exhibition. Alternate images and color versions, along with interviews with many of the artists, are on I-Pads displayed throughout the galleries. Come take a look!

Jennifer Jankauskas
Curator of Art

MMFA Short Course: Art of the 18th Century (Tuesdays at noon)

Amidst the sun and snow of recent weeks, the latest Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts short course has been exploring the art of the 18th century.  A lecture series that began with scenes of French ladies and gentlemen in lush garden scenes ended with an image of sword wielding men swearing allegiance to the state (while the women weeped.)

Now we are spending time in our galleries, making connections across American paintings, Old Master prints, and decorative arts.  So how does the world we live in compare to that of several hundred years ago?

Since the eighteenth century, haunting images and stories have provided popular entertainment, from this Piranesi print of an imaginary prison to American Horror Story.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian 1720–1778), Title Plate, From the series, Carceri di Invenzione, ca. 1760,
etching on paper, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Weil, Jr.
in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Weil, Sr., 1974.19

Wigs on men however are no longer as in vogue.

John Singleton Copley (American, 1738–1815), Joseph Henshaw, ca. 1770-1774, oil on canvas,
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama, The Blount Collection, 1989.2.6

Interestingly, the sitter in the portrait above was a member of the Sons of Liberty, while the painter’s father in law owned the tea that was dumped into Boston Harbor.  But before we get too carried away with politics, sometimes it’s important to go back to where we began and remember that everyone likes to frolic in the garden,

Fragonard_danseJean Honore Fragonard (French, 1732–1806), Danse de satyres, 1763, etching on paper,
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Weil, Jr.
in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Weil, Sr., 1992.5

that classical never goes out of style

and there is always time for a nice cup of tea.

teacupWorcester Porcelain Factory (English, Founded 1751), Teacup, ca. 1765-1768,
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James Lucien Loeb, 1993.3.1.1

Alice Novak, Assistant Curator of Education

Something’s missing


By 2012, the three 14-foot-long aluminum arcs installed by Edward Lee Hendricks in the Museum’s lake in 1991 still pivoted on their stainless steel posts in a gentle breeze as designed, adding their graceful movements to the tranquil scene. However, time and the talons of waterfowl—especially wintering flocks of big, black cormorants—had eroded the gilded surface that initially glistened in the sun.
Consequently, the Museum involved the artist in developing a plan to restore the arcs’ golden color and preserve the artist’s intent for his only sculpture in a marine environment. McKay-Lodge Art Conservation of Oberlin, Ohio, examined the sculpture and proposed to clean and re-gild the arcs with traditional gold leaf like that Hendricks had used. They also recommended an innovative Tnemec clear coat to protect the gilding from damage.
In October of 2013 the arcs were removed from the lake and shipped to Ohio for treatment. They will be re-installed in the spring of 2014. This conservation treatment will insure that the gleaming, golden arcs will again swing in the breeze as the artist intended.
The conservators will also be treating a second sculpture from the collection, Buckminster Fuller’s Twelve Degrees of Freedom, 1983. This work is one of the collection’s most significant examples of twentieth-century American sculpture, and it will also return to view in 2014.
Funding for the conservation treat-ment of these sculptures is provided by the Museums for America grant program of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Museum, and the MMFA Association.


Older Posts: