Romanticizing the American Landscape
A conversation with artist Stacy Lynn Waddell about her work Landscape with Rainbow as the Sun Blasts the Sky (for R.S.D.) 1859/2022, part of the Mint’s collection.
In 2021, Art Papers published an article about a new series of works by Durham-based artist Stacy Lynn Waddell in which she examines the history of landscape through the work of 19th-century English American painter Thomas Cole and self-taught Black Pittsburgh-based sculptor Thaddeus Mosley. The Mint’s Chief Curator and Curator of Contemporary Art Jen Sudul Edwards, PhD, took notice. As an extension of the series influenced by Cole and Mosley, Waddell created Landscape with Rainbow as the Sun Blasts the Sky (for R.S.D.) 1859/2022: an homage to American artist Robert S. Duncanson’s 1859 painting Landscape with Rainbow, which is in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and was displayed in the United States Capitol Rotunda in 2021 in honor of the inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden.
Duncanson was one of the most important Black artists of the 19th century. This event brought significant national attention to Duncanson, who remains little known beyond art history circles. The Mint Museum is pleased to have acquired Waddell’s tribute to Duncanson: Landscape with Rainbow as the Sun Blasts the Sky (for R.S.D.) 1859/2022, which will be a part of an upcoming reinstallation of the American galleries at Mint Museum Uptown in 2023. Mint curators Jonathan Stuhlman, PhD, and Jennifer Sudul Edwards, PhD, caught up with Waddell to discuss her inspiration behind the work. Lightly edited for brevity and clarity by Michele Huggins.
Jonathan Stuhlman, PhD: We are doing a rotation in the Mint’s permanent collection galleries next summer, shifting focus from different approaches to portraiture to different approaches in landscape. I am really looking forward to including Landscape with Rainbow as Sun Blasts the Sky (for R.S.D.) 1859/2022 in that. There are earlier works in this series dedicated to Thomas Cole and Thaddeus Mosley. What made you decide to extend it beyond them to Duncanson and to this painting in particular?
Stacy Lynn Waddell: I was given an opportunity to show work in a four-page spread in the publication Art Papers. I thought it was a perfect opportunity to examine the core of the romantic idea of how we have come to be as a country. We know there are holes in all of that — it is moth-eaten— but thinking about Thomas Cole and Thaddeus Mosley was really about access. How do I reconfigure or have people take another look at some of Cole’s most important paintings by inserting Mosley and his works into the scene and drawing parallels between the lives of the two men as naturalists.
The other thing was to bring forward an interest in landscape. One of the things that I have thought a lot about, especially during 2020, was access. You couldn’t go places. Once we realized that outside was a safe space to convene, then I feel like the doors were blown off in terms of how people thought about being outside.
JS: Suddenly, everyone is an outdoorsman.
SLW: Everybody! So, I was thinking about that, too: how we do not necessarily consider the space
that we have. We do not consider our dependency upon nature and how we have disrespected that
JS: Then you shift from the Cole/Mosley series to Duncanson. Was it because of his importance as the first and best-known Black American landscape painter?
SLW: Yes. When the painting was rededicated, I thought, “yeah, this is the moment.” Think of the biblical significance around a rainbow and the promise just this idea of a promise. Another thing that the pandemic did was push us to keenly focus on political discourse. To have this painting emerge during the inauguration as a kind of promise, it just struck me as something that seemed important.
Also, the fact that here is a Black man (Duncanson) at a time when Black people had no access. This painting was made in 1859, American slavery was still the order of the day, yet Duncanson was able to access and occupy spaces in America and abroad. I found that to be fascinating. It stood as an emblem of possibility for the onlooker and me as a Black woman from the South functioning as an artist.
JS: Duncanson’s painting, and the rainbow’s landing on the cabin in the wilderness, has been interpreted as symbolizing divine blessing on westward expansion, yet we were doing so at the expense of all the people who originally lived on the land. There is an irony there as he was a Black artist painting on the eve of the Civil War. Duncanson soon thereafter just got the heck out and went to England by way of Canada and left the country for several years. So, to me, it is a painting that is loaded with so many tensions and ironies. What led you to pick the tondo (circular) format for these works and the details in the way that you have done — piecing in the panels in the sky with the rounded swirl. To me, it calls to mind the arc of the rainbow, but I’d love to know more about how you landed on the bit of the picture you chose and the way that you put it together.
SLW: I started thinking about how I would intervene upon the original painting. What would make the most sense for me, someone who loves to appropriate. I do a lot of that in my art. I find photographs and other images that I take and insert a different meaning or myself into the work. Tondos are typically formats of paintings that we ascribe to religious works. The circle points to an internal way of connecting to something. My pieces are works on handmade paper made in India that is very irregular with deckled edges, but still round. So, you still fall into that place.
My drawings are created by burning paper. I am burning paper and then I am adding gilded (gold) material. I love surface texture. I thought, “why don’t you just reinterpret paintings in your materials that are all about surface interest?”
The paintings I am referencing in this also call attention to the environment. Gold leaf is tough on the environment. It is metal. It is gold pounded into sheets with a decorative pattern inlaid. All the alchemy and all the gathering of metals happen before I get the material to use it. So, when I’m using this material, I’m thinking about science, the environment, and the optical illusion of seeing a rainbow.
It is interesting to me to overlay a lot of our contemporary concerns onto a painting that was about an ironic look at a promise. What is it that we really stand for as a country? What is it? What direction are we really going in? It is natural for me to take what I do and lay it on top of something else and then hope that someone gathers something from it.
Hopefully, what the viewer can extract from looking at this series is going well beyond looking at a landscape and even beyond the Duncanson references. The materials may lead them back to some of the concerns: the environment, the landscape, their relationship to it, and what, if anything, are they doing to protect these spaces.
Jen Sudul Edwards, PhD: One of the things that I find so interesting about Duncanson is that with romanticism over the last 100 years, we have been much more critical about it as a practice, of it being nostalgic to avoid reality, whitewashing history to erase crimes against humanity that were going on at the time. You mention the irony that is embedded in Duncanson’s treatment of it, but I also find a kernel of a reminder in Duncanson, and in your series, that romanticism was also created because of a need for hope. Was that a consideration of your series, which was started during the pandemic and has the need for a rainbow at the end.
SLW: Artists are romantics, especially the idea of romanticism as a longing or looking at something lovingly or looking back at something and thinking that there is always hope. It is what we do every day in the making of the work. To be an artist, you are pulling things out of thin air with the hope that someone will come along and find interest in it — just to create a relationship with it through the eye and through the gut. But then also, to maybe buy it and show it and talk about it and write about it. I think that at the heart of all of us, we are all romantics.
I mean, for me, I grew up in the rural South. I ran through fields and grew up on a farm and have a clear relationship to the out of doors, to the land, to owning land. It is not a foreign idea for me to know that people can own land and own large parts of it. My great grandfather, Zollie Coffey Massenburg, owned hundreds of acres at a time when a Black man in rural North Carolina, did not. When he passed, his 14 children all got large plots of land, one of them being my maternal grandmother. When I pass an open field, immediately, there is something that is pricked in me about remembering, longing, and wanting that to be kept whole. No one’s going to buy this and build on it. If we could just have green spaces. The idea of romanticism is deeply embedded in me.
I think when people stand in front of work, there is a romantic gesture that is happening internally with whatever work they are looking at. You bond with it. You are creating a relationship. Whether you realize it or not, you are siphoning through your personal and psychic experiences. It is a romantic way of engaging with something.
So yes, I come to everything as a romantic, as someone who has a longing. I think my interest in appropriation is a romantic gesture to see something and want to make it not better, but to make conditions better and add my voice to that, to envision a better world. The only way that I know how to do that is just with the materials and things that I love working with.
Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”
By Rubie Britt-Height, director of community relations at The Mint Museum
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1963) was a major American icon whose life, though cut short far too soon, profoundly impacted the state of our country in the 1950s, 1960s, and today. He was an American clergyman, activist, and leader in the American Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a federal holiday that marks the birth of this profoundly courageous leader who addressed the challenges existing in the United States relative to poverty, racism, and war.
The Mint observes the official Martin Luther King Jr. holiday throughout the month of January with goals ongoing throughout the year to invoke dialogue and transformative programming, exhibitions, and equity for diverse artists, vendors, and staff. The museum is committed to its mission, vision, and strategic plan, of which diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) are a part.
Throughout 2022, the Mint will provide members and guests opportunities to view and have dialogue about meaningful works of art, attend performing arts programming, read historical nuggets about artists of color, and recount through socially conscious works of art the ongoing challenges identified by Dr. King’s speeches, writings, and sermons that continue to illuminate “the dream still deferred” in many ways.
Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech spoke metaphorically and strategically to an environment that blighted African Americans, with the hope of a transformed country of equity, equality, justice, and fairness.
The Jim Crow Museum notes that “the civil rights movement reached its peak when 250,000 blacks and whites gathered at the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which included the demand for passage of meaningful civil rights laws when Dr. King, Jr. delivered his famous speech.” Among those words, throughout his ministry are many other notable quotes that raise our consciousness and speak to courage, community, and commitment to a better America for all.
Here are just a few of his thought-provoking and enlightened perspectives as one influenced by his Christian faith, Ghandi’s non-violence philosophy, and his commitment to balance the scale of humanity in America:
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”
“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”
“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”
“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but it comes through continuous struggle.”
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
“The time is always right to do what is right.”
“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
We invite you view this curator video featuring Senior Curator of American art Jonathan Stuhlman, PhD, about the painting Selma by artist Barbra Pennington that focuses on the events that unfolded 55 years ago in Selma, Alabama.
Add more merry at home with artful holiday decor
Whether it’s glamor and dazzle, or comfort and cozy you seek, bring holiday cheer home with these locally-sourced and inspired items available at the Mint Museum Store. From art-inspired decor to gifts for all ages and styles, there’s something for everyone on your gift list.
This year, Museum Store Sunday is extended to a full week. Save 29% on all regular-priced items in the store November 29-December 6. Just mention Museum Store Sunday at check out.
Women’s artistry shines as Charlotte Symphony Orchestra concertos inaugurate Mint Museum Uptown’s newly installed Foragers
By Michael Solender
Charlotte Symphony Orchestra violinist Jenny Topilow could barely contain her enthusiasm when she learned she’d be performing in a special filmed concerto in the Mint Museum’s Robert Haywood Morrison Atrium uptown earlier this fall.
Topilow, along with three of her symphony colleagues, were part of a unique celebration showcasing the space and the brilliant newly installed 96-panel “stained glass” installation, Foragers, by contemporary American artist Summer Wheat.
“The beauty of great art is of importance to all of us,” Topilow says, “I love spending time at the Mint, go there often, and am excited to be part of this collaboration between two of Charlotte’s favorite cultural institutions.”
Bringing people together to enjoy beautiful artistry is at the core of the museum’s mission. As part of the Mint Museum’s 10th anniversary year uptown and in recognition of the challenges many in our community face getting out of their homes during the time of Covid, the Mint partnered with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra in creating a short film featuring a pair of duets performed by symphony musicians.
The collaboration came at invitation of the Wells Fargo Foundation, longtime supporters of both cultural institutions. “Our foundation uses different mediums to help tell the story of impact and reach into the communities we serve,” says Jay Everette, Wells Fargo’s senior vice president of philanthropy and corporate social responsibility. “The film represents a celebration of the power of women in art presented at the intersection of architecture, art and music. The film will ultimately be made available at no charge to the entire community.”
Each duet is performed under the backdrop of Summer Wheat’s transformative atrium window installation. Bathed in glowing jewel-toned light, the compelling musical performances are elevated by the sublimity of the space. Topilow and CSO harpist Andrea Mumm Trammell paired to play contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Part’s Fratres, an enthusiastic set of frenetic activity juxtaposed against contemplative stillness. Charlotte Symphony Orchestra players, cellist Sarah Markle and violaist Alaina Rea, teamed for the contemplative and reflecting duet Limestone and Felt, by contemporary North Carolina composer and Pulitzer Prize for music recipient Caroline Shaw.
“During this time of COVID, we want to provide content that is uplifting, hopeful, positive, and optimistic,” says Hillary Cooper, Chief Advancement Officer for The Mint Museum. “It’s a gift to our donors and partners and comes with a promise of a brighter future.”
Foragers was realized through the generous support of the Wells Fargo Foundation Women Artists Fund, a special fund developed to support broader representation of women artists in museum collections. The work showcases Wheat’s commitment to telling the stories of women as laborers and makers. She redefines historic artistic gender representation in ways that make her work resonate loudly today.
“We asked our musicians to find inspiration in Foragers, and to select music that would complement it,” says David Fisk, president, and CEO of Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. “To continue our focus on the impact of women in the arts, we feature two duets by female musicians, and one work by a contemporary female composer. I am pleased to highlight musicians from the Charlotte Symphony here at The Mint Museum for a performance that is at once classical and contemporary.”
For Topilow, the performance is a joyful experience at a happy junction of art and music.
“Everything right now, during Covid, has unique aspect,” Topilow says, “We wanted to create a large amount of powerful music with a small number of players and the result is truly special.”
Michael J. Solender is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, American City Business Journals, Metropolis Magazine, Business North Carolina, the Charlotte Observer, and others. He develops custom content and communications for businesses and organizations.
Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day
Compiled and written by Rubie Britt-Height and Kurma Murrain
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a holiday that celebrates and honors Native American peoples, and commemorates their histories and cultures. It is celebrated across the United States on the second Monday in October.
In 2018, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper proclaimed the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in North Carolina. Cooper’s proclamation states “American Indians, who have inhabited this land since long before their first contact with English settlers, share their knowledge of the land and its resources, and have continued to play a vital role in the development of our local communities, the state of North Carolina and the nation.”
North Carolina has several indigenous peoples, including the Catawba, Eastern Band of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Coharie, Haliwa-Saponi, Meherrin, Muscogee, Occaneechi Band Saponi, Sappony, Waccamaw Siouan Seminole tribe, Lumbee, and Pamlico.
Governor Cooper noted, “Our state has enjoyed a positive relationship with the indigenous people of North Carolina and continue to grow in our shared progress. We honor and respect the heritage and the many cultural and economic contributions of our American Indian tribes and people.”
The History of Indigenous Peoples’ Day
Indigenous Peoples’ Day began in 1989 in South Dakota, where then Governor George S. Mickelson backed a resolution to celebrate Native American day on the second Monday of October. It was a counter-celebration held on the same day as the U.S. federal holiday of Columbus Day, which honors Italian explorer Christopher Columbus. Some in the United States reject celebrating Christopher Columbus, saying that he represents “the violent history of the colonization in the Western Hemisphere” and that Columbus Day overshadows Columbus’ dismal actions, including enslaving Native Americans.
According to the Cherokee One Feather news, “Columbus’ landing in the Caribbean marked the beginning of decline among Native American tribes and the beginning of the Transatlantic slave trade.” Columbus Day is still celebrated the same day in many states, including by numerous Italian-American communities.
Celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day at the Mint
The Mint Museum joins North Carolina’s celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ day and embraces the idea of acknowledging the historic sacrifices of indigenous people and their contributions to the United States. The museum is proud of its relationship with the Metrolina Native American Association in presenting cultural history, heritage, dance, storytelling, and music during Native American Heritage Month. It also has presented programming with Catawba artists.
Summer Wheat’s monumental Foragers underscores the Mint’s ongoing commitment to women artists, perspectives historically underrepresented in museums
By Michael J. Solender
Uptown visitors meet with a fresh sensory experience this fall as Mint Museum Uptown reopens its doors following the Covid-mandated lockdown. As guests enter the towering glass-paneled Robert Haywood Morrison Atrium, they’re enveloped in warm jewel-toned light bathing the space of the new 96-panel “stained glass” installation Foragers by contemporary American artist Summer Wheat.
And while the quiet beauty of hand-drawn, collaged and placed colored vinyl panels encourage many to slow their pace and reflect in the grandeur, the imagery of strong, powerful women, taking on traditional male roles of hunters and providers, makes a clear and confident statement—women are represented on their own terms, making vital contributions.
The messaging is not accidental. Wheat’s work is deliberate in pushing back on gender objectification and unidimensional portrayal often depicted in museum collections. “Histories we tell, and the histories told to us are never really true,” Wheat says, her slight Oklahoma drawl elongating her cadence. “They’re only telling one side of the story, and there’s a lot that’s left out.”
Wheat, a mid-career artist whose work has been displayed in museums only within the past few years, is bucking a trend unfavorable to women. Just 11 percent of all acquisitions and 14 percent of exhibitions at 26 prominent American museums over the past decade were of work by female artists, according to a recent study by art market information company Artnet.
Recognizing this historical underrepresentation of women’s voices on public display, the Mint is leading the way to better balance the scales. “We have a strong community partner and advocate in Wells Fargo whose values align so closely with the museum on this important social and cultural issue,” says Todd Herman, Mint Museum President & CEO, “Something we really admire and treasure in the relationship we’ve had with Wells Fargo is they collaborate with us and push us further in ways that make the community better. Their Women Artist Fund and their support of our Foragers installation is a wonderful example of that.”
Charlotte knows Wells Fargo as a significant community partner and stalwart investor in our region’s diversity and success. Their foundation focuses on projects and innovation at the community level such as awareness and social change, increasing housing affordability, and access to capital for businesses. Last year, they contributed more than $14 million in support of projects and programing in the Charlotte region. In addition to programmatic work with quantitative measure, like the number of low-income individuals placed into safe and affordable housing, a component of the foundation’s work focuses on bringing perspectives and understanding to social issues through the arts.
“As company, we’re one of the largest small business lenders to women owned businesses,” says Jay Everette, Wells Fargo’s senior vice president of philanthropy and corporate social responsibility. “With the arts and culture sector of our [philanthropic] work, we realize putting a focus on female artists helps elevate and escalate women’s voices through promoting their artwork. Not only is Foragers a significant work by an important female artist, it’s also public art that anybody can come in and access without having to pay a fee.”
It was the Mint Museum’s 80th anniversary celebration and the 2016 Women of Abstract Expressionism exhibition that served as a catalyst for the formation of the Wells Fargo Foundation Women Artist Fund according to Everette. “We were beginning to formulate some of the strategies on this and through the exhibition discovered there were a group of other women artists leading the way in the movement. But they did not have gallery representation. They were not being picked up by museums after the abstract expressionist movement.”
Inspired, the Wells Fargo Foundation set about to address and help reconcile the imbalance of female representation in museum collections. “The Women Artist Fund was established three years ago, and we’ve been successful in helping to place and acquire seminal pieces of art in permanent museum collections across North Carolina,” says Everette. Other museums benefiting from the program include the Cameron Museum of Art in Wilmington, The Weatherspoon Museum of Art in Greensboro, and The Blowing Rock Art Museum in Blowing Rock.
Admirers of Summer Wheat’s Foragers, on display through September 6, 2022, will be pleased to note that through the generosity of The Wells Fargo Foundation Women Artist Fund, the artist’s work With Side, With Shoulder, a large painting where Wheat’s technique extrudes paint through wire mesh, has been acquired for the Mint’s permanent collection.
Mary Myers Dwelle, one of the Mint’s female founders would undoubtedly be pleased.
Foragers is part of the exhibition In Vivid Color: Pushing the Boundaries of Perception in Contemporary Art that opens Oct. 16 at Mint Museum Uptown.
Michael J. Solender is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, American City Business Journals, Metropolis Magazine, Business North Carolina, the Charlotte Observer, and others. He develops custom content and communications for businesses and organizations.
A stalwart supporter of the arts and dedicated staff member at the Mint, Herb Cohen provides an oral history of The Mint Museum
Herb Cohen, a well-respected potter, has been a part of the Mint family since the late 1950s and is still an active member of the Mint and the Delhom Service League. First working with clay at the age of 6 at the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Herb earned two degrees in ceramics at Alfred University before becoming a designer for Hyalyn Porcelain Company in Hickory, North Carolina.
After two years at Hyalyn, he moved to Charlotte in 1958, and immediately became involved with the Mint Museum Drama Guild. He and his husband, José Fumero, a textile artist and painter, designed and built sets and costumes, as well as appearing onstage. This was the beginning of Cohen wearing many hats on the Mint staff, including exhibition designer, ceramics teacher, interim museum director (twice!), and exhibits director. In 1972, he and Fumero moved to Blowing Rock to pursue their art full-time, but never lost touch with the Mint.
During the 38 years in Blowing Rock, Cohen made his living as a potter, was a founder of the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum, and served on the boards of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, Piedmont Craftsman, and the American Craft Council. After he and Fumero returned to Charlotte in 2010, Cohen became active with the Delhom Service League and the Potters Market Invitational. In 2012, the Mint celebrated his work with the exhibition, Sophisticated Surfaces: The Pottery of Herb Cohen.
The following interviews were conducted by Brian Gallagher, curator of decorative arts, and Ellen Show, archivist at Mint Museum Randolph during the summer of 2017. Cohen discusses his career at the Mint Museum, his life as a potter and artist, his experiences with the Mint Museum Drama Guild, and, during a walking tour, describes what the Mint Museum Randolph building was like before and after the 1967 expansion.
Interview 1 – June 12, 2017: Cohen’s roles at The Mint Museum
Gallagher talks with Cohen about his years on staff at the Mint Museum, which ran from 1958 to 1972. Cohen began as a volunteer exhibition installer and Mint Museum Drama Guild technician and actor, and went on to become exhibition designer, interim museum director (twice!), ceramics instructor, and exhibits director.
Interview 2 – June 26, 2017: Cohen’s Life in the Arts
Cohen discusses his relationship with the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and its contribution to his studying ceramics at Alfred University, his singing at Madison Square Garden and on Broadway as a child, and his work as a potter in North Carolina.
Interview 3 – July 10, 2017: The Mint Museum Drama Guild
Ellen Show talks with Cohen about his experiences working with the Mint Museum Drama Guild. Highlights of their conversation include stories about Drama Guild founder Dorothy Masterson, and memories of other guild members, including Jan Karon, Leon Rippy, and his husband, artist Jose Fumero.
Interview 4 – Aug. 18, 2017
A walk-and-talk through the original staff areas of Mint Museum Randolph. Cohen remembers the spaces as they were in the late 1950s to 1960s.
Interview 5 – Sept. 12, 2017
A walk-and-talk around the original gallery spaces of Mint Museum Randolph. Cohen describes the spaces before and after the 1967 building expansion.
Building on talent and tradition, ceramic artists leave their mark through clay creations in the Mint’s permanent collection
By Annie Carlano, Senior Curator of Craft, Design & Fashion, and Rebecca Elliot, Assistant Curator of Craft, Design & Fashion
Locally, across the country, and across the pond, North Carolina is known as the “clay state.” With an abundance of clay in the soil from the Piedmont to the mountains, centuries of pottery making, and generations of families making objects of exceptional craft and design, by the early 20th century an appreciation for North Carolina ceramics grew. In the 1960s, amid the back-to-the-earth cultural movement, pottery was collected, exhibited, and published widely, and the was the subject of scholarly inquiries and symposia.
Building on the talent and traditions of the past, in the 21st century, North Carolina has attracted potters and sculptors from throughout the world who seek good local clay bodies, but a community of makers and a lifestyle that values simplicity.
North Carolina ceramics is one of the great strengths of the Mint Museum’s permanent collection. Its contemporary holdings continue to grow through the generosity of many individuals. Striving to represent the full range of artistic production throughout the state, the Mint has amassed a collection that includes jugs, tableware, sculpture, and installation art. A sampling is featured here for your enjoyment.
Fine functional and decorative objects are also featured in the Mint Museum Store at Mint Museum Uptown.
Cristina Córdova’s figurative installation, Preludios y Partidas, commands a wall at one end of the Clay Gallery on Level 3 at Mint Museum Uptown. This subtle yet powerful psychological work was created nearly a decade ago yet is prescient. Córdova says: “In understanding this piece as a metaphorical topography, I wanted to use the title to hint as to what that corresponding psycho-emotional space would be. This landscape is one of transition and like the reference to the distillment of reason and logic from uncertainty and chaos, these figures are in the preliminary charged states (preludios) before a great action (partidas). Although the floating concrete elements could hint of the residual vestiges of a previous reality, I am not thinking of it as further leading to an ending but to the beginning of a new cycle. Common to the human experience are profound shifts where the ground gives way and one is thrust into powerful periods of self-reflection, growth, and renewed vision; this is how this space looks in my mind right before the next grand launch.”
Born in Boston, raised in Puerto Rico, Córdova received a BA, magna cum laude, University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, Colegio de Agricultura y Artes Mecánicas, Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, in 1998, and an MFA in Ceramics from New York State College of Ceramics, Alfred University, Alfred, New York, in 2002. Her sculptures are included in other prestigious museum collections including the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., Fuller Craft Museum in Massachusetts, Museum of Contemporary Art of Puerto Rico, and the Mobile Museum in Alabama, as well as important private collections. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, she currently lives and works at Penland School of Craft in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
Two Tall Vases form an elegant sculptural pair illustrating the skill and aesthetic of clay artist and entrepreneur Alex Matisse. The large vessel forms are beautifully shaped with hints of the handmade in the faint throwing lines and gracefully manipulated drip glazes. Based on traditional North Carolina storage jugs and inspired by English and Asian wares, Two Tall Vases signal a transitional period in Matisse’s career, when his mastery of regional forms and global techniques led to a period of experimentation and the emergence of his unique contemporary style.
Matisse grew up in Groton, Massachusetts and studied at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina where he discovered the rich history of the ceramics of our state. Dropping out of college to undertake apprenticeships with Matt Jones and Mark Hewitt, he started East Fork Pottery at the age of 25 along with his now wife Connie Coady Matisse, and John Vigeland. East Fork Pottery was founded on the principles of William Morris (British, 1834- 1896) that life is improved by living with objects that are beautiful, handmade, useful, and affordable. With their clean lines and muted colors, the simple everyday tableware and objects are staples in several restaurant dining rooms and are popular on wedding registries.
In Storage Jar, with its broad strong rim, a robust vernacular shape is transformed into an elegant vessel, through its small delicate handles, surfaces markings, and glaze. Matt Jones achieves a timelessness in this and other works in the Mint’s collection through his deep knowledge and mastery of historic forms, the wood firing process, salt and alkaline glazes, and slip trailing. According to Jones, “It is important to me that my work is grounded in the Carolina traditions that go back 150 years, but I feel quite free to incorporate a modern sensibility and ideas from other cultures.”
Matt Jones fell in love with clay as a student at Earlham College in Indiana. His academic education was followed by an apprenticeship with Todd Piker at Cornwall Bridge Pottery in Connecticut, and another with Mark Hewitt of Pittsboro, North Carolina. In 1998 Jones set up his own pottery studio in Leicester, North Carolina. Today the studio is owned and run by Matt and his wife Christine. Using blue pipe clay—so named because it was once used to make pipe tobacco heads—Matt Jones continues to make a variety of garden pots and vessels.
The MiSe Vase is a stunning example of Ben Owen III’s artistry. Though massive in size, it is perfectly symmetrical, displaying Owen’s great skill in throwing pots at any scale. The vessel’s rich blue color with hints of burgundy around the rim and on the handles demonstrates his mastery of a wide variety of glazes and his willingness to continually push himself to develop new glaze types. Its shape and the title MiSe reflect his knowledge of Asian ceramics, especially the Chinese ceramics tradition. In 2007, Owen traveled to China as part of a delegation of American political and community leaders and had the honor of presenting his work as gifts for the delegation’s Chinese hosts. During that trip, he also visited museums and pottery villages in China and Japan.
Owen comes from a long line of potters who settled North Carolina in the eighteenth century and made functional wares for the next two hundred years. Owen learned pottery beginning at the age of 8 from his grandfather, Ben Owen Sr., who had worked at Jugtown Pottery near Seagrove and later established his own pottery, Old Plank Road Pottery in Westmoore, North Carolina. Ben Owen III studied business at Pfeiffer University and earned a BFA in ceramics from East Carolina University in 1993. During the 1990s, he traveled to visit potters in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. Since 1999, he has operated his own studio at the Old Plank Road Pottery.
This Large Jar by David Stuempfle illustrates his skill at throwing large forms and achieving interesting glazing effects solely through the chemical reaction of clay and wood ash in the kiln. Dripping lines of brown and splotches of off-white add visual interest and complement the jar’s round form, accenting its background hues of rich brown, beige, and charcoal gray. Stuempfle makes his own clay body and slip from a mix of clay from his land and elsewhere in Seagrove, North Carolina, and commercially mined clays.
Originally from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Stuempfle first studied ceramics at the High Mowing School in New Hampshire. He then worked for many years as a journeyman potter in various states, including Tennessee and Wisconsin, as well as in Asia. When he relocated to North Carolina, he worked first for M.L. Owens Pottery and Jugtown Pottery before settling permanently in Seagrove. He built his wood-burning kiln there in 1992 and specialized in salt-glazed stoneware for several years but has recently stopped using salt glaze. His sources of inspiration include Chinese, Japanese, and Korean pottery.
On this lidded jar, Pam Owens has thrown a classic shape inspired by traditional Asian vases and complemented it with glazes in rich jewel tones of deep turquoise, burgundy, blue, and purple. The placement of the burgundy glaze around the jar’s shoulder highlights the elegance of its form. The jar’s small scale and silver lid further indicate that its purpose is decorative. The lid is by Jennie (Jennifer) Lorette Keatts, Pam’s sister, a jeweler in Seagrove, NC whose jewelry often features glazed ceramic “gems” made at Jugtown Pottery.
The Lorette sisters were raised in New Hampshire. Pamela first studied pottery there in 1975 and became an apprentice at Jugtown in 1977. After further apprenticeships in New Hampshire, she returned to Jugtown in 1980 and three years later married its owner Vernon Owens. Since then they have been the principal potters, as well as managers of this historic pottery, which was founded in 1921 by Jacques and Juliana Busbee. The Busbees were artists from Raleigh who sought to reinvigorate the North Carolina pottery tradition by introducing Asian forms and glazes. The grandfather of Ben Owen III, Ben Owen senior, worked at Jugtown Pottery as a potter from 1923 to 1959. Ben Owen and Vernon Owens are from the same family line, although Vernon’s grandfather added the ‘s’ to his name.
What’s the difference between pottery and ceramics?
Ceramics are clay objects that have been heated and chemically changed. Clay is porous and water-soluble, but ceramics are not. Pottery is a subcategory of ceramics that refers to vessels but not sculptures. The vessels can be functional or not. Pottery also has something of a rustic connotation, such that earthenware and stoneware are called pottery, whereas porcelain objects are called ceramics.
Perfectly pottery: Shop 8 of NC’s top pottery makers wares at The Mint Museum Store
The Mint Museum Store is a one-stop-shop to see many different styles of some of North Carolina’s top pottery artists, including Ben Owen, East Fork Pottery, and Erin Janow. Throughout the month of September all pottery at the store is 25% off. Start your holiday shopping with a visit to the store, and learn about some of the top pottery makers represented at The Mint Museum.
Ben Owen III
Ben Owen III continues a family tradition of pottery making that dates back to the 1700’s. His forefathers came to North Carolina from England to poly their craft and furnish storage jars and other utilitarian wares to early settlers. One of the most acclaimed and collected of today’s current North Carolina potters, Owen began his craft at an early age under the tutelage of his grandfather, Ben Owen I, a master potter himself. Owen went on to formally study ceramics at East Carolina University, where he garnered many awards and a BFA in ceramics in 1993. His pottery reflects a foundation in traditional designs alongside Asian influence. His work can be found in many museums including ours, The Mint Museum. Also, notably, The Smithsonian Museum of Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Singer/songwriter James Taylor and golfer Arnold Palmer are among the notables whose collections include works by Ben Owen III.
Dean and Martin Pottery
Jeff Dean and Stephanie Nicole Martin, both born and raised in the heart of North Carolina, rely on their love of nature and the land as inspiration for living the life of potters. Jeff received a BFA in ceramic design from East Carolina University. Balancing form, function and design, his forms usually come from something seen on a city walk or in nature. Stephanie received a BFA in design with a concentration in ceramics from UNC-Greensboro. Often utilizing digital, as well as printmaking, techniques, she builds the surfaces of her vessels. She makes hand-built and wheel-thrown objects using color, pattern, floral and figurative images to evoke a feeling of nostalgia. Watching her grandmother sew and quilt influenced her sense of craft and design, as well as her love of 1960’s and 70’s culture and music.[cs_divider]
East Fork Pottery
East Fork Pottery, founded in 2010 by Alexander Matisse (great-grandson of Henri Matisse) and Connie Coady, is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville, North Carolina. East Fork designs, manufactures and sells durable ceramic dishware. Their lines are simple and fundamental. Unadorned, the work is distilled to its essential elements: form and function. It is durable and timeless, resistant to fashion and trends. Alexander along with their team of talented artisans, make their pots with dynamic, iron-rich clays dug from the American south East and colored with glazes formulated and mixed in-house. The glazes are often limited-edition colors and the collection of colors we have in the store, are from a limited batch, unavailable now from the studio itself.[cs_divider]
Erin Janow is a potter, a wife, a mother, and a cook. Born and raised in Indiana, Erin graduated from Indiana University earning a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts and Art History. She began her apprenticeship working for Magnum Pottery in North Carolina as an understudy, honing her craft there for nearly seven years. In January 2009, she ventured forth as a solo potter to develop her own line. She began devoting much of her time developing new glazes and techniques and, along with her husband, a jewelry maker, working in a studio conveniently found in the basement of their home in Asheville. Erin has said, “My work is designed to be user friendly and functional. Because I also have a passion for cooking and family, my hope is that others will find happiness using my pottery when cooking meals for their families, in turn.”[cs_divider]
John Ransmeier grew up in Asheville, North Carolina. John was introduced to clay in 1968, and just two years later, he built his first kick wheel. John worked with many potters perfecting his art and co-founded the Biltmore Clay Company in Asheville in 1976. His work can be seen in galleries throughout the country and has been collected by such notables as Oprah Winfrey. The daily challenges of ceramic materials and techniques become rewards when he passes on his work to a receptive new owner.[cs_divider]
Jugtown Pottery is a working pottery and an American Craft Shop located in a grove of trees and bamboo eight miles south of Seagrove, in Moore County, NC. It is just off Busbee Road, a road named for Jacques and Juliana Busbee, the founders of Jugtown. Both artists with a love of craft and form, together they created Jugtown Pottery, melding forms from ancient traditions with those developed in North Carolina. In 1917 they created The Village Store and Tea Room in New York City, and in 1922 they began stamping each piece with the circular Jugtown Ware stamp.
The forms derive from simplicity and practice, a continuous line, then a complimentary glaze and occasional decoration. Drawing from the North Carolina tradition, you will find jugs, pitchers and candlesticks in wood fired Salt Glaze and Frogskin, and tableware in green, blue, brown, and gray. Vases, bowls, and jars in glazes made with wood ash, local clays, copper reds, greens, and iron earth tones, have origins in world clay traditions.Jugtown thrives on the aesthetic foundation laid out by the Busbee’s. Vernon Owens, recipient of the NC Folk Heritage Award and the NEA National Heritage Fellowship, wife Pam, son Travis and daughter Bayle are the main potters, while Bobby Owens mixes clay and glazes the pieces.
Turtle Island Pottery
Owned by Maggie and Freeman Jones, Turtle Island Pottery is named for an American Indian creation story. In its simplest form, a turtle swam to the bottom of the waters that covered the world and brought up mud to make the land. Turtle hatched her eggs on this land, and everything has come from this. Maggie and Freeman have made their living from the very stuff of creation since 1984. Their handmade stoneware pottery is both functional and decorative, with a sculptural feel. Maggie says of her process, “When I think and plan about the clay and glazes in the heat of the kiln, I envision lava flowing, crystals growing and flowers blooming. Earth, air, fire and water minerals reacting with one another, like when the earth was being formed.”[cs_divider]
Jim Whalen’s one-of-a-kind vessels are turned on a potter’s wheel, then burnished and coated with terra sigillata, an ultra-refined clay slip that can give a soft sheen when applied to bone-dry wares and, if polished or burnished while still damp, may give a high gloss. The ancient Greeks and Romans used this technique in lieu of glaze. After bisque firing, patterns and images are created with wax resist. The patterns he creates are sometimes mathematical, sometimes emotional, but always drawn from within and are intended to evoke images of an evolving planet. His unique firing process explores the lower temperature ranges of wood, salt, and soda, enhancing these patterns. Because the process is challenging and unpredictable, each piece achieves a uniqueness that is impossible to duplicate.
Tune In puts focus on where we’ve come as a society and where we are going … for better or worse
A larger-than-life outdoor diorama is coming to the plaza at the Levine Center for the Arts just outside Mint Museum Uptown. The 4,000-pound multidimensional diorama titled Tune In, created by local artist Richard Lazes and his studio team of fellow creatives at the Art Factory, is a sculpture of six stacked televisions from the 1960s in an enclosed room with wallpaper, pictures and linoleum that replicate a TV room of the time.
Tune In will be installed on Wells Fargo Plaza outside Mint Museum Uptown in tandem with the grand re-opening of the museum. The installation will be accompanied by food and live music during the Mint’s grand re-opening celebration. (Museums currently are grouped in Phase III opening guidelines. Re-opening dates will be announced when the latest guidelines from North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper are confirmed).
Televisions in the installation display a collage of rolling snippets of media programming from the 1950s and ’60s, including news segments like the launch of Apollo 11, sitcoms and tv dramas, live musical performances by the likes of Little Richard and The Beatles. It’s a reflection of history that is mirrored in society today, as well as a display of media that has—and continues to—heavily influence the way people think and act. He hopes that Tune In stimulates conversations among viewers to consider where we have come from and where we are going as a society.
Lazes wanted to create a piece of art that put the pandemic crisis of 2020 and social unrest in some type of historical perspective. The massive sculpture was created by dissecting vintage television sets found in antique shops, and then assembled into a precarious formation indicative of the dysfunctional state of our society today. Six LED screens replace the old television tubes. In order to create content for the screens, he created a video collage mined from 100 hours of TV shows and news media during the 1960s to create iconic TV shows, great musical performers by the entertainers of that day and news clips of current events during that time period.
“It’s been 60 years since these programs were broadcast on TV and while video programing has become more politically correct it is unclear whether American culture and society has become any more fair and equitable,” he says.
Lazes recognizes that shows like “The Jeffersons,” “The Little Rascals,” Lucille Ball, and “Sanford and Son” were misogynistic, chauvinistic and racist, portraying a very shallow and prejudiced view of women and blacks. “These portrayals of minorities were indicative of that period. While we have moved a long way to a more magnanimous and politically correct viewpoint in our media, I wonder if our society has really changed in the way we treat one another,” he says.
But television programming of that period also brought families together to watch favorite shows.
“With the introduction of the internet, personal computers, and smartphones, we have become isolated and no longer came together with friends and families to take in a shared media experience. Perhaps a silver lining of the pandemic is that it has brought us back together as families to sit in front of the TV set as newscasters and politicians brief us on the status of the pandemic. With all of the discord and alienation in society, we are all in need of some introspection and a positive message so I hope that my sculpture will contribute to the healing process.”
Tune In is scheduled to travel throughout 10 cities, including Charlotte, Washington D.C., Boston, New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles. At each stop of the exhibit, Lazes along with co-director Aaron Atkinson will interview and film local artists to document how they are leveraging their creative talent to bring hope to each city. The documentary “Artists in Quarantine: American Creativity During the 2020 Pandemic” will showcase how creatives took their craft to showcase truth, justice and hope in a time of despair, and is scheduled to stream on Netflix in 2022.
15+ items that celebrate women, and the centennial of women’s suffrage
This one’s for the women — and men who respect women’s rights. This year marks the centennial anniversary of women getting the right to vote. On Aug. 26, 1920, the 19th amendment passed giving women the right to vote. The vote opened opportunities for women to innovate, create and legislate for women’s rights — and art by women for women has always been a social commentary to push change. As a matter of fact, The Mint Museum’s history is rich with generations of women dedicating time to establish and grow The Mint Museum, including Mary Myers Dwelle who was the driving force behind the creation of the first art museum in North Carolina. Read more about how the Mint’s history is women’s history.
The curated list of art, books, cards and more below celebrate the strength and voice of women, and are all available at the Mint Museum Store.
Books that tell “her”story.
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Pandemic puzzle project with a lesson. Get it for the kids and you. eeBoo is “Woman Owned. Mother Run. Sustainable Sourced.”
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Send a note of inspiration with these notecards that celebrate strong women.
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A reminder in every sip of the different women and how each has made a difference in their own way.
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The notorious R.B.G once said “Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
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Originally published in 1973, The New Woman’s Survival Catalog is a survey of the second-wave feminist effort across the United States.
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A throw with a thoughtful message and design — something we can all use a little more of these days.
Career Chat with Mint Staff
Get a sneak peek of our newest exhibition New Days, New Works
Books for kids, and podcasts for parents that help teach justice for all
Teaching children anti-racist values begins when children are young, and continues as they go through the various ages and stages of childhood. Here are expert resources for reading and listening to help navigate the ins and outs of teaching future generations, and helping to break racial barriers for a clearer path to justice for all.
Picture books to graphic novels, and a lot inbetween
Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z. Each entry presents a word related to creating a better world, such as ally, empathy, or respect, and related quotes and poems.
Antiracist Baby Picture Book. Written by founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research Ibram X. Kendi, Antiracist Baby Picture Book offers parents and their little ones nine ideas to build a more equitable world through playful text and bold illustrations.
Coretta Scott King book award winners. Awarded to African American writers and illustrators whose books explore African American experiences and humanity, the Coretta Scott King book award winners showcase a variety of fiction, biographies and nonfictions for babies to teens.
20 Picture Books for 2020: If a picture can say 1,000 words, then these stories that embrace race are a great beginning.
Early Childhood: Activism and Organizing. A smart guide to choosing anti-bias children’s books, plus a curated list of book that touch on social justice in a kid-friendly and explainable way.
An Anti-Racist Graphic Novel Reading List. For tweens and teens who love a graphic novel, these selections “address topics including the Civil Rights Movement, hip-hop, gentrification, white supremacy, the criminal justice system, police brutality, and the lives of black women.”
Podcasts for parents who want real talk about real issues
Parenting Forward. Author, blogger, community leader and mother Cindy Wang Brandt features interviews with authors and thought leaders from progressive faith spaces, monthly listener question shows, and practical strategies for parents, grandparents, and anyone who loves children and wants to commit to treating children with justice in her podcast Parenting Forward.
Fare of the Free Child Akilah S. Richards and guests discuss the fears and costs of raising free black and brown children in a world that tends to diminish and dehumanize children of color in the Raising Free People podcast.
Raising White Kids with Jennifer Harvey. Dr. Jennifer Harvey discusses her book Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America, as well her personal journey towards anti-racist organizing, educating, and child rearing.
Talking Race With Your Young Child (NPR). A discussion between NPR journalist Noel King, anti-racism scholar and author Ibram Kendi, and author Renee Watson about how to be intentional when talking about race, plus tools to guide conversations with kids.
Fiber artist Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi’s passion for educating through art leads her to curate We Are the Story
She thought she’d be settled into retirement by now, but Carolyn Mazloomi’s passion for her art pushes her to keep making, curating and working. Mazloomi, who earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California and worked as a pilot and Federal Aviation Administration crash site investigator, became involved in fiber artists and quilting in the early 1970s, and founded the Women of Color Quilters Network in 1985. She currently is spearheading and curating the exhibition We Are the Story, set to open at various sites throughout Minneapolis later this summer. The exhibition is a response to the death of George Floyd in the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
We Are the Story is a series of six quilt exhibitions by the Women of Color Quilters Network, and Textile Center created under the curatorial direction of Mazloomi. The series is organized around the themes of remembering those lost to police brutality, history of civil rights, and racism in America.
“I am an artist quiltmaker, and I like to tell stories,” says Mazloomi. “Most of the work I do deals with issues of race or status of women, and a lot of the work is somewhat controversial, but I hope viewers look at it and learn something and think about things and how things possibly could be.”
As a mother and grandmother, Mazloomi was rocked when she saw the video of George Floyd being pinned to the ground, and heard him cry out for his mother.
“It just shook me to my core. I cried for days because it was sad and tragic how he passed. But hearing him call for his mother personified the role of women in the sphere of the universe,” she says.
Mazloomi is a believer in the dynamic power of females, and has been involved in the economic development of women through the arts for over 30 years. Throughout her career of making textile art, many of her works showcase the women and their strong role in society.
“Young women need to know about the power they wield. As women, we are the first teachers because we give birth. We are the teachers of humanity. It’s a position that influences all of humanity,” she says. “The first word a baby learns is usually mama and it’s so strange that the last thing a human being may talk about when dying is their mother. They call on their mother.”
A self-proclaimed news addict, she listens to news while she works. Her quilts serve as a response to what’s going on in her environment, and the world, and is meant to evoke thought.
“My inspiration always comes from the environment around me. Currently the environment is very toxic, so I’m creating work about human condition — not just here in the United States, but of refugees around the world because women and children form the greater population of refugees,” she says.
When asked what she hopes to see evolve from the protests, pandemic and social struggles of now, she answers with the wisdom, patience and hopeful tone of someone who has weathered years of society’s injustice.
“Let’s deal with the pandemic first,” she says. “Because African Americans are disproportionately affected, they are dying more than anyone else,” she says. “Hopefully out of this pandemic, maybe it will help African Americans. They have health issues brought about due to racism because they don’t have access to good housing and healthcare, which plays into susceptibility to the virus.”
Thirteen people in the Women of Color Quilters Network died due to COVID-19. She and other members of the network collectively made more than 27,000 masks that were given to healthcare workers, nonprofit organizations, funeral homes and other places of need.
“When it comes to protests, I am happy to see protesters aren’t just African Americans, but a diverse group of people around the country,” says Mazloomi. “Anything that can prompt racial equality and justice in America is a good thing. Hopefully something good will come of these demonstrations, and our government and individuals will make efforts to be more civil to one another and see equality for all American citizens.”
Mazloomi was awarded the first Ohio Heritage Fellowship Award in 2003. Ohio Heritage Fellows are among the state’s living cultural treasures. Fellows embody the highest level of artistic achievement in their work, and the highest level of service in the teaching and other work they do in their communities to ensure that their artistic traditions stay strong. In 2014 Dr. Mazloomi was given the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Award, the highest award in the nation for traditional art. She was also inducted into the Quilters Hall of Fame Museum the same year.
Mazloomi’s quilt Gathering of Spirits has been part of The Mint Museum collection since 1999, and is set to be on view in the Schiff-Bresler Family Fiber Art Gallery at Mint Museum Uptown in February 2021.
Latin Music @ the Mint
13 socially-conscious artists that deserve a follow now on Instagram
If you’re looking to bring something new into your Instagram feed, may we suggest these socially conscious artists. Some are people of color, and all allies of #BlackLivesMatter using their voices (and social media feeds) to bring new perspectives and first-hand insight to culturally important topics.
Hank Willis Thomas
@hankwillisthomas, 124K followers
His sculpture art is large and poignant, and his IG page follows with images and commentary that call for social justice and a deep look at systemic racism in America. Brooklyn-based, he works primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture.
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@simoneyvetteleigh, 53.8K followers
Simone Leigh is an American, black female artist based in New York City by way of Chicago who strives to undo cultural assumptions about black women’s life and work. Her artwork is influenced by African and African American art. She posts stunning photos of her sculptures, as well as artwork that speaks to racial activism today and throughout history.
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@dammit_wesley, 12.8K followers
One of the artists who created the Black Lives Matter street mural in uptown Charlotte, Dammit Wesley is the founder and force behind BlkMkrt CLT, the art gallery at Camp Northend in Charlotte that represents artists of color. He is a black, multidisciplinary artist, whose work “provides context and commentary on the black experience through the lens of pop culture” (Elsewhere). His work is thoughtful, albeit sometimes brash, but without apology. He was also part of the Mint Museum’s Battle Walls event in the summer of 2019.
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Owl and Arko
@owl.clt, 4.8K followers
@arko.clt, 4.5K followers
Colombian-born, Charlotte-based, Owl posts images of her work, as well as images of other artists’ work, including her partner, Arko, and positive messages that encourage change, equality, and respect. Owl is also the creator of the mural walls in the current exhibition Classic Black: The Basalt Sculpture of Wedgwood and His Contemporaries at Mint Museum Randolph.
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John Hairston Jr.
@jagolactus, 6.9K followers
A UNC Charlotte professor, freelance artist and illustrator, John Hairston Jr. is well-known in the Charlotte arts community for his graphic arts and graffiti style that blends social commentary and political satire.
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Arsham Studio 3020
@danielarsham, 728K followers
Sculptor Daniel Arsham’s IG posts are complemented by his social commentary. Recently he and artist Samuel Ross’s came together to provide $3,000 grants to 10 black artists in an effort to showcase under-represented creatives from around the world.
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Ola Ronke Akinmowo
@thefreeblackwomenslibrary, 41.8K followers
Ola Ronke Akinmowo is a Brooklyn-born artist and community activist. She started the Free Black Women’s Library to amplify the voice of black women and to bring their stories into the spotlight. She posts books to read, updates on the library, and other great content supporting black women and writers.
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@abstractdissent, 4.1K followers
Shane Pierce, aka the mural artist, Abstract Dissent, posts pictures and videos of his work. Many of his murals are responses to events like George Floyd’s murder and the pandemic, and he calls for change and unity.
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@nico_malo1, 2.5K followers
A Colombian artist living in Charlotte, Nico Amortegui is a ceramic artist and painter whose art is rooted in being an immigrant. He moved to the U.S. at age 17 from Bogota, Colombia and lived undocumented for some time. In his bio online, he states: “Being forever between two cultures has shaped my views and molded the themes of my pieces. I consider myself 100% Latino – equally Colombian and American.” He even made a mask to fit on top of his mask during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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@angelik.wiki, 1.6K followers
A curator, writer, and speaker who currently serves as the Assistant Curator at the Museum of Arts & Design (MAD) in New York City, Angelik shares works of art and promotes the talents of artists of color, and started a regular POC Artist series on her Instagram page. Her profile is full of bright colors and beautiful works.
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@breequixote, 3.8K followers
A professional artist and muralist based in Charlotte, Bree Stallings is active in the local art scene most recently helping to raise money for local organizations through the sale of her art. She was also part of Battle Walls at Mint Museum Randolph in 2019, and is the creator of the To be Seen and Celebrated solo exhibition.
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@stellamccartney, 6.3M followers
“Yes the designer, who has amazing posts,” says Mint curator Annie Carlano. The Stella McCartney IG page is fashion forward, but to support #BlackLivesMatter protests and campaigns, the platform was used as a way to learn from, listen to and amplify black voices, and amplify the voices of diverse women.
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Fill your shelves with these books that educate about race, anti-racism and inequality
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is the story of the killing of a young unarmed African American man by a white police officer, and its aftermath, told by his childhood friend, Starr. She is also the only witness to the shooting. Although this book is a work of fiction, the story drives home the real effects of systemic and institutional racism, as well as putting a very human face on events that are occurring far too often in real life. Starr’s world is very different from my own, and I chose this book because I wanted to stretch beyond my comfort zone. My takeaway is that there is much work to be done and it’s time to do it. —Ellen Show, archivist
Race and Reunion: the Civil War in American Memory by David Blight. This book is about the consequences of ignoring racial justice after the Civil War in favor of reconciliation or reunion amongst white northerners and southerners. Importantly, Blight talks about how public monuments — among other things — perpetuated white supremacy. It makes one look differently about the importance of contemporary public monuments like Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War, a direct response to Confederate monuments. —Joel Smeltzer. head of school and gallery programs
Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad. The idea behind this book began as an online call for accountability. In 2018, Saad hosted a free month-long Instagram campaign where she asked folks to share the ways in which they, knowingly or not, had upheld white supremacy. She expected resistance and reluctance. Instead, she was blown away by a worldwide outpouring of self-examination and admission. She turned that into a workbook which eventually led to the book, a manual for understanding white privilege and participation in white supremacy so that we might stop our harmful actions against BIPOC and help others do the same.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Named Esquire’s best book of the 2010s, Between the World and Me is the spiritual successor to Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. Coates book is an impassioned letter to his teenage son. Coates recalls his gradual awakening to the bitter truth of racism as he eloquently voices the concern of parents everywhere who fear that their children of color will inherit a world broken beyond hope of redemption. In heralding Coates’ arrival as one of our most gifted and necessary public intellectuals, Toni Morrison put it best: “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates.” —Todd Herman, CEO
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo is so engaging and educational. Oluo covers so many race-related topics, from offering definitions of what racism is, to explaining the school-to-prison pipeline, microaggressions, and cultural appropriation. She navigates these topics with personal stories, real examples, and as a white person I feel like this is exactly the book I should and need to be reading right now to educate myself. — Jen Cousar, graphic designer
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. Published 2018, The New York Times best-selling book exploring the counterproductive reactions white people have when their assumptions about race are challenged, and how these reactions maintain racial inequality. Download the reader’s guides here. —Lyndee Champion Ivey, executive assistant
I was invited a few years ago to join a book club of women connected mostly through children and one particular friend. I love meeting new women, but was particularly drawn to this group because the books they chose to read all related to understanding our white selves and how we drift through the days without racism in our hearts but also without wholly recognizing the systemic parameters that exist. Two books we read that I particularly like are I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown, and Behold the Dreamers: A Novel by Imbolo Mbue. Each book, in very different ways, shines a light on the misconceived American dream and how different it is for a person of color.
Behold the Dreamers, is the story of two families: one an immigrant family from Cameroon who believes life will be better in America, and the other a wealthy white family living in New York City. It’s a stark contrast of lifestyles, beliefs and culture. I’m Still Here is an eye-opening first-person account from a black woman navigating majority white schools, organizations, churches and corporate America, and how it affects everything in her life. —Michele Huggins, media relations and communications project manager
Liberate Meditations. Liberate is a Meditation app for black, indigenous, and people of color community. Over 50,000 people use Liberate to reduce anxiety, stress less and sleep better. I chose this resource in an effort to listen and learn about how to connect people through the art and meditation. Art is communication, it allows people from different cultures and different times to communicate with each other via images, sounds and stories. While we are all being proactive to make needed change, its important to remember that art can be healing. —Diane Lowry, guest services associate
HB2 Squirrels shake up expectations of social norms, shine spotlight on LGBTQIA+ issues
HB2 Squirrels, a pair of gender-symbol-wielding squirrels covered in multicolored war paint greet visitors in the main entryway of Mint Museum Uptown. The squirrels, part of The Mint Museum collection, pose a striking opposition to expectations of social norms and what one expects to be met with in a museum.
The HB2 Squirrels were inspired by North Carolina’s House Bill 2, commonly referred to as the “bathroom bill.” HB2 required residents to use the bathroom in public facilities that matched the gender on their birth certificate, launching a national outcry over civil liberties. The bill was criticized for impeding the rights of transgender people and other people in the LGBTQIA+ community who do not identify strictly within the gender binary, and was later repealed by N.C. Governor Roy Cooper.
Artist Michelle Erickson, outraged, took to her potter’s wheel. The result: two salt-glazed stoneware squirrels, grasping the gender symbols—one drenched in the colors of the American flag, the other in the colors of the LGBTQIA+ rainbow flag. “Congressional acts are temporary,” she says “but art is forever.”
The composition of the squirrels also was crucial. The squirrels face each other, seemingly holding their assigned gender symbols as weapons used to fight one another. The female symbol, a circle with a cross stemming down, is inverted and held by the squirrel to mirror the way the male symbol is held. Erickson said inverting the symbol was a call to uprooting the traditional view of women as a shield.
The color of the squirrels is also indicative of the message being sent. Both have rainbow colored lines covering their face and body. Erickson said she wanted to use the rainbow motif instead of the colors of the transgender flag, to place a gentle reminder that transgender individuals are included as a part of the LGBTQIA+ community.
The squirrels also have different base bodies. The choice to make one black and one white was a conscious decision to ground it in societal tensions involving race, and to highlight the different viewpoints that stem from race within the LGBTQIA+ community.
When working with a new piece Erickson says she “allows the work to take [her.]” She starts with a design, but as the piece of clay is being shaped, it gradually takes on a new form. The overall product is as much a reflection of the process as it is the original idea.
HB2 Squirrels are a part of the past and present, she says, representing the processes of the Moravian potters, as well as speaking to the heightened political atmosphere surrounding LGBTQIA+ issues, and specifically the HB2 bill that was introduced in North Carolina in 2016. The resulting work of art challenged norms through revitalizing old processes and questioning societal implications.
The idea that became the HB2 Squirrels began as a study of a set of figural bottles from the 18th or 19th century. Erickson says the bottles originally intrigued her due to their lack of clear function and their unique construction. The bottles’ unglazed interior and overall shape indicated that they were made using a cast or mold. During her artist residency at STARworks, Erickson began using traditional techniques with salt-glazed stoneware to see if she could create a similar design. The original designs of the squirrels were modified to be reflective of the modern era.
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The subtle art of the museum label
By Jen Cousar
One of our greatest goals at The Mint Museum is to ensure that art is for everyone. When our doors are open, we host community programs, free evenings, and a whole host of tours and programs to help our community experience art like never before. But even with open doors and open conversation, some things within museums are just down right confusing. Enter the museum label. Many of you have seen these text panels next to every work of art in the museum, but what exactly do they mean? Well, we’re here to explain, so that your next trip to the Mint—and any other museums you visit—will be that much more valuable and accessible.
Every work of art in The Mint Museum has a label. The label provides useful information about the object, such as when and where it was made and by whom. Most of the labels also have a paragraph offering more detailed information about the object, including who or what it depicts or something interesting about its design or creation. Every label in the museum has the same essential parts, as illustrated by this example:
Artist or maker
If we know who made the work of art, that person’s name appears on the first line. Sometimes a work of art is made by a factory, workshop, or studio, in which case its name appears on that line. If we know the name of an individual working for that organization who contributed to the object’s creation in a key way, then he or she is also identified. “Attributed to” means that we do not have definitive proof that this person created the work, but he or she likely did
Point of origin
Under the artist’s name, we indicate that person’s nationality or culture, and life dates. For organizations, location and years of operation are listed.
Name and date art was created
Sometimes we know exactly when an object was made, but for historical works of art we often have to estimate. In the label example above, for instance, the work was made circa, or about, 1876.
What the object is made of, whether it be acrylic paint, porcelain, wood, stone, canvas, or any combination of materials.
This information is called the credit line. If the work is owned by a museum, either the Mint or another institution who is lending the object to the museum, then the credit line generally includes whether the object was a gift to the museum or a purchase. It also includes the accession number. This is unique to each object in a museum’s permanent collection and identifies it in the museum’s records. Loans from private collectors do not have accession numbers.
This paragraph gives you background information of interest to help increase understanding of why the object was created.
Through the eyes of docents, a closer look at the Mint’s permanent collection
More than 50 docents make up part of The Mint Museum family. A docent is a museum guide, usually a volunteer, who can share knowledge on everything from the Art of the Ancient Americas at Mint Museum Randolph to the Craft+Design galleries at Mint Museum Uptown. And best of all, the tours are free to visitors. Museum docents share their favorite artworks and insights on the Mint’s permanent collection below.
Quilt Film Quilt by Sabrina Gschwandtner
One of my favorite pieces is Quilt Film Quilt by Sabrina Gschwandtner (Gish-wandt–ner). The piece is a quilt made of old 16-millimeter film that is cut and sewn together to form a quilt. The piece is amazingly beautiful and looks totally different when viewed from afar versus up close. It is also a wonderful homage to the history of handicraft in the United States. Throughout the years, quilts have played many roles in our society, including a way for women to express information about their lives. Quilts were also created to raise funds for causes, such as women’s suffrage, and with the advent of quilting bees, quilting became a social outlet. What I love most about quilts is their ability to provide warmth and spread love.
Scotland by Grace Hartigan
Grace Hartigan’s painting Scotland in the Contemporary Gallery is one of my favorite pieces in the Mint Collection. I find that spending time looking at this painting slowly is a transformative experience. The large size of this work is engaging. The abstract style, as well as the use of the color blue, encourages meditation and introspection. I am also drawn to the spontaneity and gestural mark making, and the emotional expression and sense of spirituality.
Ghost Orchid Plastic Nebula 2018 by Sheila Gallagher
Created by melting plastic packaging and other plastic objects otherwise destined for the trash, Ghost Orchid suggests that transformation can result in great beauty. The bright colors and cheerful arrangement remind me of a field of wildflowers or a glorious bouquet.
You must look closely to understand what this work is about. Viewed from a distance, it looks like an abstract painting. That would be enough, but to fully appreciate Gallagher’s message and her mastery of materials you must spend some time with the work—plus, you have to find the ghost orchid. Ghost Orchid Plastic Nebula asks us to consider the objects that are part of our everyday lives and what happens to them when they are no longer of use. By including the rare and endangered ghost orchid in the work, the artist reminds us of the fragility of our ecosystems. Good things to keep in mind as we find ourselves evaluating what really is important.
Check out the video Chronical Trash Talk: Artists Are the Best Recyclers for a glimpse of Sheila Gallagher at work and for some very heavy thoughts on trash.
Five-Gallon Jar by David Drake
I absolutely love the large piece of pottery Five-Gallon Jar on display at Mint Museum Uptown. The Mint has many great pottery pieces, but this pot is especially special because of its maker, his story, and his personality. The pot was made on March 19, 1864 by a master potter named Dave. We know this because it’s inscribed on the pot. It also says “lm,” which refers to Dave’s master, Lewis Miles. Dave signed many pots, which was highly unusual for the time. As an enslaved African American in South Carolina it was illegal for Dave to write. His signed pots show an independence and a spirit, as well as courage.
Several of his pots also had short poetry. Three of my favorites are:
“Another trick is worse than this, Dearest Miss, spare me a kiss” – August 26, 1840.
“I wonder where is all my relations, Friendship to all – and every Nation” – August 16, 1857.
“I made this jar all of a cross, if you don’t repent all will be lost” – May 3, 1862, during the Civil War when many people were dying.
Dave’s personality comes through in his poetry, and in the Mint’s example, I can see it in his large scripted signature, “Dave.” Five-Gallon Jar is one of the last he signed. He died at age 64. It’s an incredibly unique gift to see, to absorb, and to appreciate the craftsmanship and poetry in Dave’s work.
Spin, Weave, Gather by Nancy Callan
One of my favorite pieces of art at The Mint is Spin, Weave, Gather by Nancy Callen. As you approach this splendid wall-hung exhibit, you can’t immediately tell that you are looking at glass, and most especially, that the flat, textural pieces are blown glass. In 2016, Nancy Callan, a Seattle-based glass artist, entered a residency here in North Carolina at STARworks. During that time, she learned about the history of the textile industry in North Carolina. The transformation of cotton from plant to thread to woven fabric captured her imagination because her work in glass has been informed by textile patterns, as well as the process of fabric production. In this work, Callan celebrates the alchemy of starting with sand and ending up with crystal – much the same as the magical journey of a plant seed ending up as a beautiful piece of fabric.
Her process requires a skilled team of glass blowers to make the caliber of work that she produces. She says working with her team is like a ‘jazz band’ – there is a leader, but everyone has a role to play and a time to ‘shine’. They work to music, any kind of music, which she believes creates a rhythm that they all respond to. What is so remarkable in this process is that the glass panels start out as large cylinders (like the ones behind her in the picture below). Once these cylinders are completed, the bottoms are cut off and they are returned to the kiln. She cuts along one long side of the cylinder after it begins to soften and as the glass continues to heat, they coax it open and it becomes flat. After the piece is flattened and cooled, it must be cleaned, polished, and fired again. Nancy says this is the process in which artists originally made window panes for buildings.
White Ripple by Hoss Haley
I am a big fan of the work of Hoss Haley. I love to bring visitors to see his piece called White Ripple. It is fun to watch the guests study it and figure out how it was made. Hoss takes found objects, (mostly metals) and shapes them into interesting forms. In this case, he went to a junkyard and took the sides off washing machines. The squares are then bolted together and curves are introduced in a circular fashion like you see when something drips into water. He likes to keep the metals raw and unfinished and many of his items rust in outdoor installations. He has several pieces around Charlotte, including a giant bronze hand called Integrity by the Courthouse uptown, and a gargantuan 40-foot tall, 20-ton installation called Old Growth at the Charlotte Douglas airport.
—Laura Lynn Roth
Offering Baby a Rose by James Goodwyn Clonney
One of my favorite things about being a docent at the Mint Museum is helping people discover new and fun ways of viewing and thinking about art. One piece I often like to show visitors at our Uptown location is Offering Baby a Rose by James Goodwyn Clonney. I like this piece because it gives me the opportunity to show visitors how to “look” at art with more than just their eyes, but using their other senses as well. For example, I often ask visitors what they smell when they look at this piece. At first, I get some strange reactions, but then I pass around a bar of rose-scented soap and they immediately get it.You could also think about how the rose feels. Are the petals soft and silky, or are there thorns on the flower’s stem?
Another question to think about is: What do you hear when you look at this piece of art? Do you hear birds chirping or a light breeze blowing through the trees? Or do you hear the clanging of dishes as breakfast is being made? By using all of your senses you can come to a more nuanced understanding of works of art. Engaging smell, sound, and touch allows you to create new interpretations of Offering Baby a Rose.
9 ways to get creativity flowing during a WFH lunch break
Doodle and color
While our access to the outside world is limited, doodling is an easy way to get creative with items you already have at home. If you’re more of a color-inside-the-lines kind of person, check out these coloring pages of famous artworks ready to download. Don’t be afraid to mess up, just start.
Use your words
Take five minutes to write a haiku (Japanese style three-line poem with a 5-7-5 syllable structure) about your day, your mindset, or even what’s on your lunch menu. This idea comes from Inc., and luckily they’ve shared 31 other ways to boost creativity while at home that we think are pretty great.
Practice writing your letters
Lettering has surged in popularity and visibility in the past few years, and is a fun way to share favorite phrases with the world. Draw your own letterforms, or use this printable practice sheet we’ve created as a place to start.
Paint your own masterpiece
Whether you try your hand at watercolors, or break out the finger paint with your kids, painting is a relaxing and beloved art form with many styles to explore. Here’s a watercolor tutorial from Mint staffer Leslie Strauss to get started.
Take it from the experts
Read a book about art or creativity to get your creative juices flowing before your next project. A few favorites: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon, How to be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum by Keri Smith, and Creative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas. Advice & Projects from 50 Successful Artists by Danielle Krysa. (Not into these? Check out what our staff has been reading during this time at home).
Preserve the moment with photos
Every phone has a camera these days, and thankfully photography is a pastime that we can all enjoy no matter our skill level. Take photos of your surroundings, your family, or try your hand at nature shots. Check our guide to getting your best snapshots with tips from some Charlotte professional photographers.
Build your creativity soundtrack
Find an already made playlist on Spotify or Pandora, or dive into a genre you’re unfamiliar with. Artist Michael Sherrill shares this favorite playlist.
Take a class and support a local business
Skillpop Anywhere and other local businesses are using art as inspiration for classes you can take at home to grow your next hobby or skill.
Visit a museum
The experience of seeing artwork in person can’t be replicated, but the Mint—and many other museums across the world—are taking a chance on virtual tours, videos, and all kinds of alternative methods to bring art to your couch, kitchen table, or sunroom. Join curator Brian Gallagher for a gallery tour of our Classic Black exhibition, or travel a little farther from home with tours from The National Gallery in London, The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, or the Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand in Brazil.
Why designing theater sets has shown me museum exhibition design can (and should) be so much more than a white box
By HannaH Crowell
Four years ago, I took my career off the stage and into the gallery. After working as a freelance theatre designer for many years, I joined The Mint Museum staff as the exhibition designer in 2016.
Inspired by art since childhood, theatre revealed itself as a form of creative expression that combined my love for art and storytelling. The daughter of an amazing storyteller, I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a storyteller, too. But I wanted to create spaces where these stories came to life.
Those early formative years have led to a career focused on crafting the immersive art experience, emphasizing audience engagement and finding new ways to tell stories. And while I now work full-time in the museum world, I’ve kept my foot in the arena of theatre design, often designing for Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.
The transition from theatre to museum work has redefined how I use design to interpret space and engage an audience in a story. But, there are three lessons theatre has taught me that I bring to each new project.
Curtain up! The big reveal sets the scene
When the lights go down in the theatre, just before the curtain rises, my heart skips and I tear up. It’s been this way since I was a kid, and when I started working in theatre I didn’t become numb to it—I learned to design for it. The big reveal is not just part of the magic, it’s the first impression you give your audience of the world you’ve created for the story.
Of course, we can’t raise a curtain for every visitor to a museum gallery, but I work to design each Mint exhibition entry in a way that still gives the visitor that big reveal. For most exhibitions, the entry begins with a title wall that provides a brief introduction to the exhibition concept. I want ours to go one step farther: to set the rhythm and atmosphere for the visitor’s experience.
For Under Construction: Collage from The Mint Museum, an exhibition exploring the dynamic medium of collage that opened December 2018 at Mint Museum Uptown, I wanted to give the visitor a tactile experience upon entering. So we created a wall, where visitors could tear off each letter of the exhibition name. By tearing away a layer of the title wall, the visitor would participate in an ever-evolving collage and better understand how a collage is made through the layering, tearing, and subtracting of materials.
Sometimes, though, the big reveal of an exhibition entry needs to transport the visitor into an entirely new world. For the Mint Museum’s exhibition Michael Sherrill Retrospective—on view from October 2018 through April 2019 at Mint Museum Uptown—it was important that upon entry, the visitor develop a strong connection to the artist Michael Sherrill, known for his groundbreaking work with clay, glass and metal.
For Michael Sherrill Retrospective, I took a far more atmospheric approach, designing an environmental treatment that immersed the visitor in the lush green forest of western North Carolina, set against the cobalt blue stained wood planking matched to Michael’s Studio. The entry transitions the visitor seamlessly between interior and exterior spaces inspired by Michael’s studio space and surrounding property.
Listen to what the characters have to say
The first step in any theatre design process is reading the script. Each character is an essential part of the story, and the playwright has given important information that defines the world of the play—and the design—in the character’s dialogue. The first step in an exhibition design process is reviewing a document similar to a script, known as a checklist. More like a character breakdown, the checklist gives specific information about each work of art that will be in the exhibition. Unlike a script, the characters in the checklist don’t have speaking lines. And yet, they still speak if you know how to listen.
While it took an adjustment at first when transitioning from theatre to museum design, I learned to rely on the curator, the artist, lots of research and my own intuition to help interpret what the objects have to say and how this informs the world of the exhibition.
For the Mint’s most recent exhibition Classic Black: The Basalt Sculpture of Wedgwood and His Contemporaries at Mint Museum Randolph, I worked with curator Brian Gallagher and did months of research to help interpret what the more than 100 objects—ranging from small portrait medallions to large busts and vases—all of the objects had their own story, so finding a way to weave those stories together to create a seamless narrative was one of the biggest design challenges I’d faced. The other distinctive aspect of these “characters” was that they were all “costumed in black”—or rather, they are all made of a black basalt ceramic material. So one of the first design decisions influenced by our cast of characters was to set them in a world of color. But how to shape the gallery into a stage that each of these characters could come to life?
Originally produced in the 18th century, these objects were thriving in the height of neoclassical design. My research lead me through the designs of Robert Adam, whose aesthetic focused on the movement of the eye from floor to ceiling, creating architectural features that would frame these objects within the elegant rooms. For our exhibition, each of the three gallery rooms was inspired by the grand designs of the neoclassical style. The Sculpture Hall for the character that told the story of the classics, The Library for the characters that were the thinkers and the politicians, and finally, for the beautiful characters fit for the finest entertaining, The Drawing Room.
The audience is your most important collaborator
Theatre is a collaborative art. Actors, the director, designers, and stage technicians—they all bring their expertise and talents to the process, but it isn’t until that first performance with an audience that the team is complete. While working as a theatre designer, I was so intrigued by the prospect of designing for an environment where the audience is no longer confined to a theatre seat and can navigate their way through a multidimensional creative moment.
This led me away from the “black box” of the theatre and into the “white box” of the museum gallery. With each new exhibition design project, I learn and apply new ways of creating immersive and engaging spaces for the visitor to create their own stories.
The most theatrical design I’ve yet to do in the museum, the exhibition Never Abandon Imagination: The Fantastical Art of Tony DiTerlizzi needed a design that invited the characters in DiTerlizzi’s illustrations to break out of the white box and come play in the gallery. Designed into the immersive exhibition there where drawing activities, larger than life character cutouts, and books to read and look at so that visitors to the exhibition could interact with the characters the book they live in, creating their own stories.
I still return to the theatre to remind myself of these lessons and learn new ones that might help make me a stronger designer—for the stage or the gallery. Last fall I worked with Children’s Theatre of Charlotte on their world premiere production of The Invisible Boy. Part rock concert and part picture book, the scenic design brought the beloved children’s story by Trudy Ludwig to life, pulling inspirations directly from the pages of this thoughtful book about a boy, Brian, whose vivid imagination becomes a canvas for his creativity.
The Mint remembers Dr. David C. Driskell, a pioneering artist and scholar
We are losing many great minds and kind hearts in these spring months and while we may not be able to recognize all, we will try to celebrate the lives of artists, collectors and patrons who have had direct impact on the museum and our community. One such man of national and international acclaim is artist and scholar Dr. David C. Driskell, who passed away of coronavirus on April 1, 2020 in Washington D.C. at the age of 88. His touring exhibition Narratives of African American Art and Identity was on view at The Mint Museum in 2002.
Driskell was born on June 7, 1931 in Eatonton, Ga. His paternal Gullah lineage was from the Georgia Sea Islands. His family moved to Hollis in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina when he was a child. His parents were both “makers”—his father, a blacksmith and Baptist preacher; his mother, a basket weaver and quilter. Educated in a small segregated school house, his teachers recognized his intellect and passion for art and encouraged him to attend college. He tells the story, with great humor, of traveling to Washington, D.C., enthusiastically arriving at Howard University totally unaware of admission procedures, determined to “attend” college. He sat in on classes until someone helped him officially enroll. His passion, his determination to learn, create, and teach never faulted.
Like his parents, Dr. Driskell also remained a maker. A figurative painter, his work had the loose brushwork and bold colors of the abstract expressionist painters who dominated the galleries in his youth. He became nationally recognized and lauded as early as 1956 with his modern day Pietà, Behold Thy Son, a memorial for the brutally murdered Emmett Till. The painting now hangs near Dr. Driskell’s Washington D.C. home, at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Covid-19 virus abruptly ended his life; however, his legacy—his indelible contribution to the canon of American art history—will live on through his art and through his many publications, scholarly dissertations, lectures, and the generations of art historians that he spawned.
Driskell modeled himself after his mentor, Dr. James A. Porter, who established the art department at Howard University and pioneered the field of African American Art History. As heir to Porter’s groundbreaking work in the field, Driskell pursued his study, achieving his Bachelor of Arts from Howard University in 1955 and an MFA from Catholic University in 1962. He also studied at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine in 1953 and Art History at The Hague, Netherlands in 1964.
Driskell remained an important teacher as well as scholar. He taught at Talladega College in Alabama, Howard University, Fiske University in Tennessee, Bowdoin College in Maine, the University of Michigan, Queens College, and Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, before joining the faculty of the Department of Art at the University of Maryland, College Park in 1977. He remained affiliated with the school through his retirement in 1998. In 2001, the school established the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora. The school reflects its namesake: Terry Gips, Director of The Art Gallery University of Maryland, states, “Driskell evidences his commitment to enhancing the study of art by emphasizing the multicultural contributions made by Native Americans, Black, Asian and European artists.”
Rubie Britt-Height, Director of Community Relations at The Mint Museum, first met Driskell while on staff at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. “Dr. Driskell was often involved with us—sharing, advising, and supporting,” says Britt-Height. “He would lend commentary on a work or an exhibition, and we’d inquisitively seek his wisdom. And of course, he had great ties to Loïs Mailou Jones, his Howard University art instructor.”
Driskell advised esteemed collections, and in 1996, he assisted President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton in their selection of the first work of art by an African-American for the White House permanent collection with the acquisition of Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City.
Driskell directly touched our Charlotte community when his chose to honor his North Carolina roots by ending his national touring exhibition, Narratives of African American Art and Identity at The Mint Museum in 2002. The museum exhibition, along with a solo exhibition of his paintings at Noel Gallery, was facilitated by former Mint Museum trustee B.E. Noel. “The best way we can honor Dr. Driskell is to enfold the work of African-American art into every aspect of the canon and celebrate our common humanity through art,” says Noel.
Todd Herman, the Board of Directors and our Mint staff extend our appreciation to Dr. Driskell and sincere condolences to the Driskell family.
This piece was written by B.E. Noel, a former trustee of The Mint Museum who knew Dr. David Driskell through her role as a gallerist, collector, and scholar.