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Spotlight

A Black man plays guitar while a Black woman sews.

Collection Spotlight: Robert Gwathmey

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September is National Sewing Month, so our collection spotlight shines on “Singing and Mending” by Robert Gwathmey.

The artist, a white male, depicted rural life in the South in order to provide commentary on the power structures at play. Try “slow looking” as you consider the historical period, title, color and composition.

The guitar player’s head is angled down. What do you think his body language indicates? Both subjects have strong black lines on their forehead. Is this a happy scene? Consider how color choice could convey a mood.

Imagine the rhythm of her stitch in time with his guitar strokes and hear her song.

A Black man plays guitar while a Black woman sews.

"I'm a social being and I don't see how you can be an artist and be separate....Artists have eyes...You go home. You see things that are almost forgotten. It's always shocking."

Robert Gwathmay
A detail of a group walking in the woods from a color lithograph.

Collection Spotlight: Faith Ringgold

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To contrast the color lithographs on view in our exhibition of French posters, we’re highlighting lithographs from the museum collection in August for our collection spotlight.

This vibrant work-on-paper is by Faith Ringgold, an artist who works across a diverse media set: painting, sculpting, quilting and performance art. Her work draws upon American history, race and gender issues, often telling stories of enslaved people and the Underground Railroad.

In “To Be or Not to Be Free,” Ringgold illustrates a journey towards a better life.

The text around the print reads:

“Aunt Emmy and Uncle Tate was the first to come to Jones Road in a dream. They followed their dream North to the Palisades and on to Freedom on Jones Road, Barn Door and Precious led 28 of us on that long hard journey thru the woods and swamps with Baby Freedom born on the way, To Be or Not to Be Free. Ringgold 2/11/14.”

Take a closer look.

Why do you think she used such bright colors for the forest and dark colors for the travelers?

Does this narrative still relate to oppressed people today? Why?

Why is freedom personified as a newborn?

A color lithograph of people walking in the woods.

Faith Ringgold
b. 1930
“To Be or Not To Be Free,” 2014
Color lithograph on paper
30 x 22 1/4 in.
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University; Museum purchase with funds provided by Lynn Barstis Katz
2015.14

A photograph of a woman lying in the grass.

Aug. 19 is World Photography Day

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Shutterbugs rejoice! World Photography Day celebrates the science, history art and craft of photography. Explore a sampling of works from our impressive collection of prints, which also includes works by Diane Arbus, Gordon Parks, Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol, among others.

A woman sitting on a stoop gestures in this black and white photograph.

Collection Spotlight: Lisette Model

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Can a photograph capture a personality? Lisette Model’s “Lower East Side (woman), New York”  is on her stoop in mid-sentence, gesturing to the passersby below. Model found inspiration on the streets and in the faces of the city’s celebrities, entertainers and average citizens, which she captured candidly in their unguarded moments. To whom do you think she is talking? What kinds of things has she seen and heard?

Years later, Model learned more about her subject. Her granddaughter described her the woman as a loving, Romania-born widow with nine children. She worked day and night at a little store in front of her apartment. The photographer recounted in a 1979 interview how she gifted a copy to the family, who had a party to unveil the photo with family and friends. “People came in and said yes that’s her,” explained Model. “and you see that it is when the real people see it, not other people who will say what kind of a grotesque monster did you photograph here. That was not what I photographed. I knew that this woman was a great personality, and so were many others.”

A woman sitting on a stoop gestures in this black and white photograph.

ca. 1942
Consolidated Medium
Gelatin silver print
Museum purchase with funds provided by William Dunlop Family Foundation
2016.02

A construction worker sits on unfinished stairs.

Collection Spotlight: Chad States

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In June 2020, our collection spotlight explores permanent collection photography. As June is Pride Month, our first selection is a work by American photographer Chad States.

What do you first notice about this person? What details are provided, given the location? The subject met the artist through an online post, seeking people who identify as masculine for personal portraits.

In his series “Masculinities,” States photographed a variety of people in settings and poses that expressed their sense of this concept. One participant, Dex, commented, “I’d say I’m masculine because of how I feel inside, who I am, and how I carry myself. In a lot of ways my masculinity is tied to my male gender role and how I want to project that and be perceived by others.” A transgender man, Dex chose to be photographed in a stereotypically male setting related to construction.

How does this make you think differently about your view of others?

From the 2018 practicum, “Dignity and Diversity: Portraits from the Permanent Collection,” curated by Honors Introduction into Art History students.

A construction worker sits on unfinished stairs.

Dex, 2007
Archival pigment print
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University; William Dunlop Collection

A ruby-throated hummingbird approaches a cluster of blossoms, with other hummingbirds trapped in the blooms.

Collection Spotlight: Walton Ford

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Things are not as they seem in the charming print, “Limed Blossoms.” Contemporary artist Walton Ford pays homage to John James Audubon’s artistic style, but he also makes a critical statement on man-made threats to the environment.

What do you observe about the ruby-throated hummingbirds sipping nectar from the blossoms? One bird curiously approaches unaware. The others are trapped and lifeless. The title, “Limed Blossoms,” gives us a clue. Audubon and other collectors spread sticky birdlime on twigs and other perches to trap small birds to study, export and trade. Ford uses outdated and unassuming methods to symbolize the human footprint’s destructive impact.

Notice anything in the bottom left corner? Pollution blocks the rosy sunset. Through his artwork, Ford advocates for protecting the environment.

A ruby-throated hummingbird approaches a cluster of blossoms, with other hummingbirds trapped in the blooms.

Color etching and aquatint
Accompanying the limited-edition book Pancha Tantra
Edition: 100
Museum purchase with funds provided by the 1072 Society, 2012

A young girl leans out of a window, looking sad.

Collection Spotlight: Marion Greenwood

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Marion Greenwood, a social realist artist who worked in various mediums, is best known for her murals and work in Mexico.

Ever breaking barriers, she was the first woman to receive a mural commission from a foreign government and was one of two women selected as an artist war correspondent during World War II. Greenwood transferred her “terrific love for human beings and people” into becoming a painter of people focused upon their diversity. She won the Lithography Prize from John Herron Art Institute.

In Greenwood’s lithograph “Waiting,” a young African American girl leans out of a window. Her head rests on her stacked hands. How do you think she feels based on her posture and gaze? What is she thinking?

A young girl leans out of a window, looking sad.

Waiting, ca. 1950
Ink on Paper
Lithograph
9 3/8 x 12 1/2 in.
Museum purchase

Contributed by Leslie Schuneman, curatorial intern

I find that years later after the sieve of time takes place, you really know more about what you want to say personally.

Marion Greenwood
Warm light and shadows move across a book, opened to a picture of a heron.

Collection Spotlight: Jane E. Goldman

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Observe the passing months and seasons in the work of Jane E. Goldman. Cut flowers in glass vases and native plants frame each setting of her intricate prints. Patterned shadows dance on table cloths, floor tiles and opened books featuring images from John James Audubon’s “Birds of America.” Goldman works in various media, with her style described as “lyrical realism.” In her words, she is “looking inwards to depict incorporeal works of imagination that can’t be seen by observation.”

What seasonal elements can you sense by looking at “Audubon June?” The page in the book subtly moves, perhaps partially propped up by the chilled water glass or a burst of breeze. How does the reproduction of Audubon’s work blend into the scene? The branches in the upper right give partial coverage to the blue heron at the water’s edge.

Warm light and shadows move across a book, opened to a picture of a heron.

“Audubon June,” 2004
16-color screen print
Edition: 53/64
18 x 26 inches (image)
Gift of Lynn Barstis Williams Katz and Burton Katz

A melon baller and bottle opener posed as people; a glove with two fingers walking

Collection Spotlight: Janet Nolan

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Everything from squashed aluminum cans to plastic packaging finds its way into the work of Janet Nolan (B.V.A., 1968). As a young girl in Montgomery, Alabama she absorbed the aesthetic of repurposing objects into new contexts from a beloved uncle who reconstructed ”everyday broken things into useful objects; like old metal coffee pots into lamps with colander shades.”

Inspired by Louise Bourgeois’ feminist perspective and Robert Rauschenberg’s assemblages, Nolan began sculpting with broken umbrellas she collected from Manhattan streets after a thunderstorm in 1976. Nolan’s art-colorful, playful and thought-provoking has been exhibited at universities, art centers, galleries, museums and corporate headquarters across the nation. Cheerfully, Nolan asks us to shift our expectations of redemption, recycling, rescue and revival.

A melon baller and bottle opener posed as people; a glove with two fingers walking

(L to R)

I Do, 1995
Kitchen utensils, glass case, painted wood
Gift of the artist’s estate

Cruella, 2000
Fur and suede glove, wood base,
glass dome
Gift of the artist’s estate

Installation of Apollo the Healer

Collection Spotlight: Nancy Grossman

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Nancy Grossman, a New York City native, created this life-size etching, “Apollo the Healer,” in 1995. The Olympian god is associated with medicine and healing, and in this piece, the artist focuses our attention on a contorted collage figure of him, pieced together and made anew.

Grossman considered collage—the cutting and pasting of visual elements into a new form—as “the only way to make the disparate and ill-fitting parts of a life, an identity, an elegantly seamless experience. It satisfies both the urgent and the substantive thirst.” The museum, joining the world-wide chorus, offers thanks to all providing medical assistance during the pandemic, with hopes that this art provides a path away from suffering and toward restoration.

Contributed by staff

Figure of Apollo the healer

Edition: 3/20
65 in x 39.5 sheet
Spit-bite color etching
Museum purchase with funds provided by the 1072 Society, 2018

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