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Stars Falling on Alabama

Stars Fell on Alabama

On the nights of November 12 and 13, 1833, a dramatic meteor shower occurred in North American that came to be known as “the night of raining fire” or “the night the stars fell.” The celestial show was so dramatic that many believed it to be an omen portending the end of the world. This event provided the themes for a book and song in 1934, each titled “Stars Fell on Alabama,” a phrase that also inspired the title of Thompson’s commissioned window for the Museum in 1999–2000.

In the window, the center panel is the primary element of the composition, featuring an encounter between earthly and heavenly creatures. A host of celestial beings – winged muses and personifications of the sun and moon – shower artistic inspiration in the form of fireworks on the figures below, who draw, make music, or simply marvel at the heavenly wonder. Muses, or personifications of inspiration, float above while in the foreground a group of stargazers sit under a quilt. Each quilt square has an image that is taken from a painting, sculpture, or porcelain from the Museum’s permanent collection.

Specific to Montgomery are the magnolia trees and people. Thompson has also included two self-portraits: the seated artist painting the scene, and the muse in the orange colored gown holding a tambourine. The artist in the center panel is working on a painting within a painting, with fireworks over a dome similar to the one here at the Museum in Blount Cultural Park.

The two flanking windows contain groupings of figures that are representative of Montgomery’s diverse population and culture. On one side, a man and a child gesture toward the center window event, while in the other, musicians play in celebration of a sky raining stars.

The Artist in the Window

The Studio Glass Movement is centered in Seattle, Washington, and Cappy Thompson is one of the stars of this movement of artistic expression. Thompson began her career as an artist of stained glass in 1976, and she developed her reputation as a glass painter when she moved to Seattle in 1984 and began teaching at the Pilchuck Glass School in Standood, Washington. She is known internationally for her painted blown-glass vessels, mostly narrative sequences that illustrate her understanding of and reaction to myths and dreams. Her art centers on narrative–an individual mythology that she has constructed based upon her longstanding love of storytelling and fantasy.

Thompson takes advantage of the transparent, light-transmitting nature of glass to construct stories on the interior of vessels, like the one from the Museum’s permanent collection or in window-walls such as that found in the Museum’s Lowder Gallery. Her subjects convey visual “blessings” or wishes that she conceptualizes as narratives on the painted surface.

Meet the Artist

Credit lines:

Cappy Thompson (American, born 1952), Lovers Sweet Embrace While Dream Chariot Waits, 1997, vitreous enamel reverse painted on free-blown glass, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Bowen and Carol Ballard, Jim and Jane Barganier, Lucy Blount, John and Joyce Caddell, Dorothy Cameron, Herman and Anne Franco, Ralph and Lila Franco, Mike and Julie Freeman, Corinna Gauntt, Barrie and Laura Harmon, Charles and Donna Ingalls, Richard and Sue Jaffe, Mike and Kent Jenkins, Ray Johnson, Jim and Mary Lynne Levy, Jim and Joan Loeb, Michael and Laura Luckett, Maurice and Peggy Mussafer, Jim Sabel, Philip Sellers, Charles and Winifred Stakely, Andy and Lisa Weil, Jean Weil and Laura Weil, 2000.3

Cappy Thompson (American, born 1952), Stars Falling on Alabama: We Are Enraptured by the Celestial Fireworks of the Muses, 2005, vitreous enamel on glass, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts Association Commission, 2006.2

Art in the Garden: Jun Kaneko

Behind the Art

Born in Japan during World War II, Jun Kaneko immigrated to the United States in 1963 to study painting at Chouinard, now known as CalArts in California. Soon, he began studying with influential ceramic artists including Peter Voulkos; their experiments in removing the functionality from clay in order to work expressively and abstractly led to what is known as the “American Clay Revolution.”

For the last 40 years Kaneko has worked extensively in Ceramics, Painting, Glass & Bronze. In 1985 he moved to Omaha Nebraska— where his current studios consist of over 80,000 square feet in 4 warehouses. A prolific artist, Kaneko is most renowned for his monumental, cylindrical, and triangular-shaped ceramic forms called “Dango”, the Japanese word for “rounded form”. Kaneko began creating monumental ceramics in 1982 using industrial kilns to produce the tallest single ceramic forms measuring up to 13’ tall. These enormous, playful, and innovative sculptures are not only an impressive technical achievement but also demonstrate his mastery of glazes. His works embody several dualities: the combination of painting and sculpture and the balancing of Eastern and Western ideas.
Featured in exhibitions nationally and internationally, Kaneko’s sculptures are also a part of museum collections around the world including the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the National Gallery of Australia, The National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England, and the MMFA. His work Untitled (Dango), 2003, is on view in the Museum’s Young Gallery.

Installation of three of Jun Kaneko’s works: Jun Kaneko (Japanese, born 1942), Untitled (Dango), 2004–2007, glazed ceramic, Lent by the artist

Art in the Garden: Joe Minter

Meet the Artist

A self-taught artist, Joe Minter uses art to tell the story of the history and journey of Africans and African Americans in America. In 1989, he began working on his own sculpture garden, the “African Village in America,” located in Birmingham. Minter feels he is directed by God in this endeavor and creates all of his sculpture from found objects, as he believes that these items contain the spirits of all who have touched them.

Minter was a featured artist in the MMFA exhibition  History Refused to Die in 2015, and his sculptures are part of the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in D.C., and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Joe Minter, Dedicated to All Those Who Served, n.d., found metal, Lent by the artist
Joe Minter, Lumberjack Without a File, n.d., found metal, Lent by the artist

Art in the Garden: Adam Bodine

Meet the Artist

Adam Bodine brings a sense of humor and fun into his sculpture. Employing salvaged wood and metal, he creates oversize images of toys. Bodine’s use of industrial materials formed into familiar objects allows him to explore themes of play, dreams, building, and learning. What You Say, 2012, conjures up nostalgic ideas of old-fashioned gramophones or brings to mind a more current image; that of a bullhorn, an apparatus used to amplify our voice.

Bodine received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and his Master of Fine Arts from the University of Georgia. He has worked at Sloss Furness in Birmingham and has shown his sculptures around the South.

 

Art in the Garden: Casey Downing, Jr.

Meet the Artist

Mobile-based artist Casey Downing, Jr., works both figuratively and abstractly in a variety of metals.  Circular, an example of his minimal abstract sculptures, incorporates the fluid, graceful forms that evoke movement and controlled energy that is apparent in many of his non-representational works.

Downing received his degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and his art has been featured in exhibitions at the Mobile Museum of Art, the Huntsville Museum of Art, and other venues in the South. In addition to exhibitions, Downing is best known for his permanent public art commissions around the state, which include sculptures sited in Dothan, Huntsville, Mobile, and Montgomery.

Circular (2018)

Casey Downing, Jr., Circular, 2018, stainless steel, Collection of Dr. Paul Maertens, Mobile, Alabama
Photography of installation at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts

Art in the Garden: Deborah Butterfield

Behind the Work

One of the most prominent American sculptors working today, Deborah Butterfield first began using mud, clay, and sticks to create sculptures in the form of horses in the 1970’s. In 1977, she moved to a ranch in Montana and in 1979 began using scrap metal and found steel. For the past decade, she has been making unique bronze pieces, cast from found wood sticks and pieces, to which she then methodically and expertly applies her patina. Currently, Butterfield splits her time between studios in Montana and Hawaii. In both places, she shares the land with horses (including her dressage horse, Isbelle, the model for this piece), and they continue to inspire her work.

Born and raised in San Diego, Butterfield received her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Fine Arts from the University of California, Davis. Since 1976, she has exhibited extensively around the world, including solo presentations at the Seattle Art Museum in Washington, the Dallas Museum of Art in Texas, the Israel Museum, in Jerusalem, and the San Diego Museum of Art in California. Her work is included in numerous public collections including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, among many others.

Art in the Garden: Christopher Fennell

Meet the Artist

Christopher Fennell’s background in engineering informs his art.  Using everyday objects for inspiration, his dynamic sculptures have a sense of humor and are often participatory. For example, viewers can sit in the center of Skate Leaves, 2018, and look up and into the vortex of colorful skateboard decks that suggests the acrobatic skill of skateboarders as they sweep up and over the sides of a skate park.

Based in Birmingham, Fennell received his Bachelor’s of Art in Sculpture from the University of South Florida and his Master of Fine Art in Sculpture from the University of Georgia. Installations and public commissions are sited around the country in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Maine, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Washington State, among others.

Interview

Art in the Garden: Randy Gachet

Meet the Artist

Birmingham-based artist Randy Gachet reclaims and re-contextualizes everyday materials into his art. In Hollow Sphere Theory, 2018, he combined salvaged tire pieces from roadsides into two semi-spheres of hexagonal elements.  For Gachet, this is partly a way to return industrial materials to nature, to push humble materials into new directions, and to explore what he terms the “bounty” that exist in areas of urban sprawl. The resulting sculptures are playful ways to examine the tension between nature and artifice, high and low, insider and outsider.

Originally from Mobile, Gachet received his Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from Birmingham-Southern College and now teaches at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham. His work has been featured in exhibitions at the Johnson Center for the Arts in Troy, the Wiregrass Museum of Art in Dothan, the Huntsville Museum of Art, and the Meridian Museum of Art in Mississippi.

 

Art in the Garden: Chris Boyd Taylor

Meet the Artist

Chris Boyd Taylor is primarily interested in craft, scale, color, movement, architecture, and ideas of spectatorship and interpersonal relationships. This piece is part of a series called Stadium Spheres, 2018, inspired by recent travels across the Southeastern United States documenting venues of spectatorship. Taylor found that many stadiums use staggered colored seat patterns in order to trick television viewers into thinking it is full when it is not. This color pattern, and the stair zig-zag that accompanies the profile of most bleachers, is the signature design inspiration for this new body of work.

Taylor received degrees in fine arts from Ohio State University and New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University and is presently an Assistant Professor of Art at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. His work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally, with major public art commissions in Montevideo, Uruguay, and Clarksville, Tennessee. Taylor is currently working on a commission for the Nashville International Airport to hang in one of the concourse’s skylights.

Interview

Art in the Garden: Craig Wedderspoon

Meet the Artist

Craig Wedderspoon trained as a glass and crystal carver but moved to making art from metal and wood in the late 1990s.  Manipulating his chosen material and playing with density, pattern, surface, and the velocity of line, Wedderspoon combines geometry with patterns found in the natural world. This results in elegant abstract forms that are simultaneously fluid and ordered.

Currently, Wedderspoon is an Associate Professor of Art at the University of Alabama. He received his undergraduate degree from Florida International University and his master’s degree in sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University. His work has been exhibited widely, including solo presentations at the Birmingham Museum of Art and the Johnson Center for the Arts in Troy.

Interview

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