Work by artist Barbara Pennington depicts key events of the Civil Rights Movement
The Mint Museum has just acquired the remarkable, large-scale painting Selma (1965) by Barbara Pennington (1932 – 2013). Measuring nine feet across, this powerful canvas depicts the heart-wrenching events that unfolded during a series of civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama, in the spring of 1965.
Pennington, an Alabama native and a talented painter who had won a four-year scholarship to study art at the University of Alabama, was working in New York at the time of the Selma marches and attacks. The events unfolding in her home state inspired her to create this monumental canvas, which is unlike the vast majority of her other, more abstract work. Likely drawing upon images that appeared in the mass media, Pennington wove together her narrative into a striking scene that still serves as a powerful, moving representation of these tragic events almost 50 years later.
Selma was recently discovered by the artist’s niece, Charlotte resident Vicki Moreland, while going through Pennington’s studio shortly after her death. Rolled up in a corner, it had not been seen in many years and was a surprising discovery, as the artist worked almost exclusively in an abstract style for the majority of her professional career.
“I was amazed when Mrs. Moreland showed me images of Selma,” recalls the Mint’s Senior Curator of American, Modern, and Contemporary Art, Dr. Jonathan Stuhlman, “and even more so when I had the opportunity to see it in person. As we approach the 50th anniversary of these tragic events, Pennington’s painting will serve as a powerful reminder of the struggles and sacrifices of the brave individuals who participated in the Civil Rights Movement.”
Adds Moreland: “Aunt Barbara would be very happy to have her work in such a lovely museum, but I imagine it would also have been bittersweet given the events that inspired her to create Selma. Today, I think she would see her painting as a testament to the will of the people involved in those historic marches. I am grateful to The Mint Museum staff for their efforts to introduce her work to Charlotte. It’s been an emotional journey to get here, but seeing Aunt Barbara’s work in the same hall with contemporary masters is an exciting opportunity for a woman who meant so much to me.”
Selma is currently on view in the museum’s permanent collection galleries of Modern & Contemporary Art on Level 4 of Mint Museum Uptown at Levine Center for the Arts, 500 South Tryon Street in Charlotte.
In partnership with Paramount Pictures, the museum is offering free passes to see a preview screening of the acclaimed new film SELMA, starring David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King and co-starring Oprah Winfrey. The first 30 visitors to Mint Museum Uptown beginning Saturday January 3 will receive a pass valid for two tickets to a screening on January 6 at 7 p.m. at Regal Stonecrest at Piper Glen.
The museum will observe the 50th anniversary of the landmark events depicted in both Pennington’s canvas and the film with a free public program in March entitled “Conversation: Selma in Retrospect – The 50th Anniversary of a Monumental Civil Rights Moment.” The free program on March 25 from 6:30-8 p.m. will be held at Mint Museum Uptown.
Barbara Pennington (American, 1932—2013). Selma, 1965, oil on canvas. Museum purchase with funds provided by Peggy and Bob Culbertson, the Romare Bearden Society, Sally and Russell Robinson, Mary Lou and Jim Babb, and a gift of the Moreland Family. 2014.79. Collection of The Mint Museum. Image © Mint Museum of Art, Inc.