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Quiet Spirit, Skillful Hand: The Graphic Work of Clare Leighton

Quiet Spirit, Skillful Hand: The Graphic Work of Clare Leighton

June 14, 2008

The Mint Museum of Art has originated a traveling exhibition of more than 100 rare and unique works by British-born artist and writer Clare Leighton.

This collection of Leighton’s work, assembled and donated to the Museum by Charlotte resident Gabby Pratt, is one of the largest in the country and includes more than 180 of the artist’s finely-detailed engravings, drawings and watercolors, spanning Leighton’s career from 1923 to 1965.

Quiet Spirit, Skillful Hand: The Graphic Work of Clare Leighton provides a full survey of Leighton’s career, from her earliest prints in the 1920s that depict the labors of the English working classes to a selection of her rarely seen watercolors. Unique to the Pratt collection is a set of 12 Wedgwood plates, titled “New England Industries,” for which Leighton designed the transfer-printed images. Among the exhibition’s highlights are the prints that resulted from Leighton’s early visits to North America, including The Breadline, New York and Snow Shovelers, New York, as well as the artist’s entire Canadian Lumber Camp series.

Born to an artistic family, Leighton studied wood engraving in Great Britain before moving to the U.S. during World War II. Settling first in Baltimore, she moved to Chapel Hill in 1943 and served as a visiting art lecturer at Duke University from 1943 to 1945. During her career, Leighton wrote 15 books and created more than 700 intricate prints. The Pratt collection includes numerous examples of her critically-acclaimed scenes of agrarian life in both England and the American South.

During her lengthy career, Leighton illustrated her own writing as well as classic and contemporary literature, including notable commissions for books written by Thomas Hardy, Emily Brontë and Thornton Wilder. Quiet Spirit, Skillful Hand will feature numerous wood engravings that Leighton created specifically as book illustrations, including those for her own book, Southern Harvest, and those commissioned for the seven-volume set of The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore.
   
To accompany the exhibition of Leighton’s work, the Museum presents Coming Home: Selections from the Schoen Collection. This outstanding exhibition features 22 paintings from the collection of Jason Schoen of Miami. Schoen’s holdings of American Scene painting trace the social, economic and political changes that occurred across this country between World Wars I and II — roughly the same era in which Leighton created her compelling engravings.

The paintings from the Schoen Collection, by artists such as Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, Joe Jones, Robert Gwathmey, Kenneth Hayes Miller and Ben Shahn, provide a broad national context for the themes and subjects found in Leighton’s work. This exhibition is not only a rare opportunity for visitors to see numerous works from one of the top collections of American Scene paintings held in private hands, but also to reflect upon our country’s history as seen through the eyes of some of its most important artists.

Quiet Spirit, Skillful Hand: The Graphic Work of Clare Leighton and Coming Home: Selections from the Schoen Collection are on view at the Mint Museum of Art from May 17 through September 14, 2008. The Leighton exhibition will then travel to the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington, N.C.

Both exhibitions include beautifully illustrated catalogues available for purchase in the Mint Museum Shops. The Clare Leighton catalogue is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art, as well as a grant from the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation.

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