Bearing Witness: One Year Later

December 17, 2020

Presentation by Dr. Richard J. Powell, Duke University.


This week (December 14, 2020) marks the 201st birthday of the state of Alabama. A lot has happened since commemorating our bicentennial a year ago: Governor Kay Ivey has kept us informed about our safety, Mayor Steven Reed has appeared on the national news speaking about unity and justice, and our Alabama arts community has forged new pathways—many digital—to serve our citizens.

We would like to mark this year’s anniversary of statehood by sharing with you some insights from the three-day symposium Bearing Witness: Art of Alabama, supported by the Alabama Humanities Foundation and the Alabama State Council on the Arts (ASCA). Bearing Witness was an exciting, collaborative journey throughout the history of Alabama art, featuring a compilation of contemporary, scholarly voices from around the state and nation. Speakers addressed the vast social changes that Alabama artists have observed and recorded over the past two centuries; recordings of each lecture are available below.

As Dr. Ed Bridges, former Interim Director and conceptual architect of the program, said, “Too often we tend to look at history in terms of wars, social conflicts, political campaigns, and economic cycles; art gives us another window. Looking back at Alabama’s past and present, we can explore the art in-depth and learn more about the people who created it. It gives us a chance to see our state and our fellow Alabamians in a new way.”

Echoing the words of Dr. Elliot Knight, Executive Director of ASCA, from his greeting to over 230 participants at Bearing Witness, “Welcome to Alabama’s Capital City for an engaging celebration of, and reflection on, Alabama’s visual arts landscape. The Bicentennial has been an opportunity for collaboration across the state among institutions that are not always connected, and the Bearing Witness: Art of Alabama symposium is a great example of this collaboration.” We invite you to explore the symposium through the videos below.

Alabama, Mother Mine: Resident in the Kingdom of Cotton

Prior to 1839, wealthy planters in Alabama could only hire peripatetic painters to memorialize themselves and their families. This talk investigates the role of portraiture in a state so recently a territory, followed by a commentary on how our beginnings as Alabamians presaged our present and future.

Dr. William U. Eiland, Georgia Museum of Art

A native of Sprott, Alabama, William Underwood Eiland is the director of the Georgia Museum of Art at UGA. A graduate of Birmingham-Southern, he holds a doctoral degree from University of Virginia. Eiland has edited and contributed to more than 60 publications. He has also served on the boards of AAM, the SEMC, and the Georgia Association of Museums and Galleries; as a trustee of AAMD and ICOM; as Chairman of the Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Advisory Panel for the NEA and Vice-Chairman of AAM’s Accreditation Commission. Among his many honors, in 2013 he received the AAM Distinguished Service Award and recently received a Georgia Governor’s Award.


Recorded on Thursday, November 14, 2019

Art of Alabama’s Native Peoples

Among several artistic florescences experienced by Native Americans over 13,000 years of occupancy of present Alabama, the lecture will focus on one of the most recent. Artisans of Mississippian culture (1100–1500 AD) produced noteworthy aesthetic achievements in stoneworking, copper working, shell engraving, and ceramics. The talk illustrates these using specimens from Moundville.

Dr. Vernon James Knight, Emeritus, University of Alabama

Vernon James Knight is Professor Emeritus and former Chair of the Department of Anthropology, University of Alabama, and Curator Emeritus of American Archaeology in the Alabama Museum of Natural History. He is an archaeologist, ethnohistorian, and iconographer, specializing in the indigenous southeastern US and Caribbean, with a Ph.D. from the University of Florida. His research has centered on social organization and religion of Native American societies of the late prehistoric and historic eras. He directed twelve years of excavations at the Moundville site in West-Central Alabama. One of his books includes Iconographic Method in New World Prehistory (Cambridge).


Recorded on Friday, November 15, 2019

Alabama Landscape Painting before 1969: Diverse Views from Southern Shore to Northern Vale

Alabama landscape painting before 1969 presents sublime, picturesque, realist, and modern views that reveal a state of great natural beauty lovingly captured by visitors and natives, culminating in the establishment of the mid-twentieth century Dixie Art Colony, Alabama’s first school of landscape painters.

Dr. Michael W. Panhorst, Guest Curator

Michael W. Panhorst retired after eleven years as a curator at MMFA to take the directorship of Landmarks Foundation of Montgomery and Old Alabama Town, but he retained responsibility for curating the MMFA exhibition From Southern Shores to Northern Vales: Alabama Landscapes, 1819–1969. He recently retired from Landmarks and upon conclusion of the MMFA exhibition and symposium will relocate with his wife Betsy to Portland, Oregon, to be near her family for the first time in a 45-year career in the history of art and architecture that has taken them to Delaware, Virginia, Michigan, Massachusetts, Civil War battlefields, camp-meeting grounds, and countless cemeteries.


Recorded on Friday, November 15, 2019

Art of Alabama Industry

Alabama artist Frank Hartley Anderson asserted that the inside of a steel mill offered “a beauty such as no artist can put on canvas.” Yet they did. From the time of Birmingham’s emergence as a center for the industrial South in the late nineteenth century to the present day, the iron and steel industry has shaped Alabama art.

Dr. Katelyn Crawford, Birmingham Museum of Art

Katelyn Crawford joined the Birmingham Museum of Art as The William Cary Hulsey Curator of American Art in 2017. She is responsible for the museum’s vast holdings of American art, from the colonial era to 1970. At the BMA, Kate has curated exhibitions including Magic City Realism: Richard Coe’s Birmingham (2018)—which focused in part on industrial Birmingham—and For Freedoms: Civil Rights and Human Rights (2018). Prior to joining the BMA, Crawford served as Assistant Curator, American Art, at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. She holds a M.A. and Ph.D. in art and architectural history from the University of Virginia and a B.A. from Columbia.


Recorded on Friday, November 15, 2019

Art of the Civil Rights Movement

Dr. Bridget R. Cooks, University of California, Irvine, will present the “Art of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama” including the photography of Chester Higgins and Chris McNair and work by artists represented in the Museum’s Collection.

Dr. Bridget R. Cooks, University of California, Irvine

Bridget R. Cooks is Associate Professor in the Department of Art History and the Department of African American Studies at UC, Irvine. Her research focuses on African American artists, Black visual culture, and museum criticism. Cooks has worked in museum education and has curated several exhibitions, including Grafton Tyler Brown: Exploring California, (2018, Pasadena Museum of California Art); and Ernie Barnes: A Retrospective at the California African American Museum (2019, CAAM). She authored Exhibiting Blackness: African Americans and the American Art Museum (2011) and is currently completing her next book, Norman Rockwell: The Civil Rights Paintings.


Recorded on Friday, November 15, 2019

Women Artists of Alabama

This talk by Graham C. Boettcher, the R. Hugh Daniel Director of the Birmingham Museum of Art, will provide a richly illustrated overview of significant early twentieth-century women artists of Alabama, including Clara Weaver Parrish, Carrie Hill, Anne Goldthwaite, Zelda Fitzgerald, Geneva Mercer, and Lucille Douglass, among others.

Dr. Graham C. Boettcher, Birmingham Museum of Art

Graham C. Boettcher is the R. Hugh Daniel Director of the Birmingham Museum of Art. Since arriving in Alabama in 2006, Boettcher has frequently written and lectured on the Alabama artists, including Nicola Marschall, Frank Hartley Anderson, Zelda Fitzgerald, Carrie Hill, and Lucille Douglass. Among Boettcher’s publications are The Look of Love: Eye Miniatures from the Skier Collection and contributions to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery. Boettcher received his B.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University and an M.A. from the University of Washington in his home state.


Recorded on Friday, November 15, 2019

Chester Higgins’ Photography and Relationship to Alabama

While at Tuskegee in the 1960s, Higgins learned the value of the photograph and understood that the media image of the African American was often missing decency, dignity, and character. Higgins’ desire to show the humanity of people of African descent led him to explore the richness of the unseen with the camera.

Chester Higgins, Jr.

Photographer Chester Higgins addresses memory— personal and collective—narrative, place, and identity. He uses light, perspective, and points in time to reveal an interior presence in his subjects as he searches for what he identifies as the Signature of the Spirit. Higgins is the author of photo collections, including Black Elder Grace: The Nobility of Aging and a memoir entitled Echo of the Spirit: A Photographer’s Journey. His work is the topic of two PBS films and has frequently appeared in the New York Times. The recipient of numerous grants, his solo exhibitions have appeared at the International Center of Photography and The Smithsonian Institution.


Recorded on Friday, November 15, 2019

New South and the Dixie Art Colony

In the early twentieth century, spaces for making and exhibiting art in central Alabama were nurtured by artists led by John Kelly Fitzpatrick, Charles Shannon, Crawford Gillis, and John Lapsley. New South and The Dixie Art Colony reflected the passionate dedication of individuals who sought to bring greater recognition to the role of the visual arts in the South.

Margaret Lynne Ausfeld, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts

Senior Curator of Art Margaret Lynne Ausfeld has
written extensively about the art and material culture of the Southeast, including Bill Traylor: Drawings from the Collections of the High Museum of Art and The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (2012) and History Refused to Die: The Enduring Legacy of African American Art in Alabama (2015). She authored the 2006 publication American Paintings from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and has curated exhibitions of the works of Bill Traylor, Edward Hopper, and others. Ausfeld holds a B.A. in European History from the University of Alabama, and an M.A. in Museum Studies/Art History from George Washington University.


Recorded on Friday, November 15, 2019

Public Art in Alabama

Dennis Harper, Jule Collins Smith Museum; Chintia Kirana, Expose Art; and Deborah Velders, Mobile Museum of Art; moderated by Dr. Elliot A. Knight, Alabama State Council on the Arts

The Public Art in Alabama panel will provide a broad and brief overview of the development of public art in Alabama, ponder the question of what public art really is, and explore recent trends toward more temporary and ephemeral examples that function differently than the monuments and murals of yesteryear.


Recorded on Saturday, November 16, 2019

Love Will Find A Way: The Plaints & Acclamations of Alabama’s Artists

Apart from the prestige they bring the art world and the South, selected twentieth-century artists offer a unique visual lesson: life and death testaments couched in scenarios of love and redemption. This talk considers seemingly oppositional impulses in the works of artists such as Howard Finster, Thornton Dial, Jack Whitten, Annie Mae Young, and others.

Dr. Richard J. Powell, Duke University

Richard J. Powell is John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art & Art History at Duke University, where he has taught since 1989. He studied at Morehouse College and Howard University before earning his doctorate in art history at Yale University. Along with teaching courses in American art, the arts of the African Diaspora, and contemporary visual studies, he has written extensively on topics ranging from primitivism to postmodernism, including such titles as Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson (1991); Black Art: A Cultural History (1997 & 2002); and Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture (2008).


Recorded on Saturday, November 16, 2019

Art in Alabama Today

Stan Hackney, Mobile Museum of Art; Dr. Jennifer Jankauskas, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts; Essie Pettway, Gee’s Bend; and Peter Prinz, Space One Eleven; moderated by Amy Williamson Jenkins, ASCA

This forward-looking panel will address art’s role in shaping society for future generations of Alabamians. Panelists will discuss influences, both artistic and social, on living Alabama artists; emerging curatorial practices; and new and exciting changes in the museum field which better serve artists and communities.


Recorded on Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Role of Art in Advancing Truth and Justice

EJI believes that art is critical to advancing meaningful truth-telling about the history of racial and economic injustice in America. The Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice are physical sites and engagement opportunities that encourage communities to embrace the work of truth-telling to advocate for real solutions to contemporary challenges.

Kiara Boone, Equal Justice Initiative

Kiara Boone, Deputy Director of Community Education of the Equal Justice Initiative, earned a degree in Political Science from Davidson College in 2011 and a nonprofit management executive certificate from Georgetown University in 2012. Prior to joining EJI, she worked with the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, D.C., and managed support for community development in Florida for the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. Her work includes facilitating discussions and providing insight into the making of the new Legacy Museum and National Memorial to Peace and Justice. Boone has spoken widely about the power of the arts and collective memory.


Recorded on Saturday, November 16, 2019

Lead Sponsors

Alabama Humanities Foundation

Alabama State Council on the Arts

Signature Event

Alabama Bicentennial Commission


Birmingham Museum of Art

Expose Art

Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University

Landmarks Foundation of Montgomery

Mobile Museum of Art

Space One Eleven

Wiregrass Museum of Art

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