Exhibition of African American art opens Jan. 15 at TMA

Press Staff Writer

        Twenty-four exemplary works acquired over the last two years from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, one of the most important organizations supporting the work of African American artists from the southern United States, will debut in January at the Toledo Museum of Art.
        “Living Legacies: Art of the African American South” features works in a range of media. Artists included in the exhibition are Leroy Almon, Thornton Dial, Thornton Dial, Jr., Richard Dial, Lonnie Holley, Ronald Lockett, Joe Minter, John B. Murray, Royal Robertson, Georgia Speller, Henry Speller, Luster Willis and several generations of women quiltmakers, including Louisiana Bendolph, Mary Elizabeth Kennedy, Jessie T. Pettway, Lola Pettway, Lucy T. Pettway, Martha Pettway, Rita Mae Pettway and Florine Smith, as well as Estelle Witherspoon, one of the founders of the Freedom Quilting Bee.
        Curated by Jessica S. Hong, TMA’s curator of modern and contemporary art, the exhibit will be on view in the museum’s New Media Gallery from Jan. 15 through May 1.
         “’Living Legacies’ celebrates the multiplicity, power and complexity of these artists’ practices that represent a crucial part of the American experience and art historical record,” said Hong. “The exhibition is intended to illuminate these visionaries’ multifaceted creative achievements and enduring legacies.” 
       In 2014, the Souls Grown Deep Foundation began an ongoing program to transfer works to the permanent collections of leading American and international art museums. “Living Legacies” supports TMA’s strategic initiative to broaden and make more accessible its collection, exhibitions and outreach programs and to acquire and present works by artists whose cultural perspectives and traditions have historically been underrepresented in museums.
        “Living Legacies” will offer a mix of media, techniques and approaches, with works organized by family, aesthetic and visual affiliation, as well as along social, spiritual and political themes.
       A range of vibrant and patterned quilts by Louisiana Bendolph, Mary Elizabeth Kennedy, Lucy T. Pettway and other artists from Alabama, including Boykin, Alabama (also known as Gee’s Bend), frequently embody religious references or significant designs and mark-making expanding the histories and legacies of quiltmaking in America.
       Several artists emphasize the primacy of the domestic sphere, from learning or bestowing familial cultural traditions to reflecting on the influence of family structures, as with Richard Dial’s engaging mixed-media sculpture, “The Comfort of the First Born” (1988).
       Many in the exhibition were active during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s and express their journey having to contend with injustice and discrimination through their artistic and cultural production.
        Lonnie Holley's work transforms discarded materials into powerful, often biting critiques of societal wrongs, from racial injustice and child neglect to environmental destruction. He often uses materials like old car parts and truck gears, electrical cords and recycled pieces of communication technology.
       Leroy Almon’s aspirational mixed media work, “The New Heaven” (1984) features a godlike figurehead overseeing a diverse group of worshippers in the promised land. The exhibition culminates with Thornton Dial’s large-scale sculpture, “Trip to the Mountaintop” (2004), which borrows words from a prophetic and rousing speech made by Martin Luther King Jr. the day before he was assassinated in 1968.
       The exhibition will also include a reading area with resources and materials related to the artists, works and themes explored throughout the exhibition, providing further context and an opportunity for visitors to respond and reflect.               
        “Living Legacies: Art of the African American South” is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan (#SHARP), the NEH’s $87.8 million grant program to help nearly 300 cultural and educational institutions recover from the economic impact of the pandemic. The exhibition is also supported by presenting sponsors Susan and Tom Palmer and season sponsor ProMedica, with additional support from the Ohio Arts Council and TMA Ambassadors.
        Admission to the museum is always free, but visitors are required to register at the Information Desks when they arrive. The museum is open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from 11 a.m.-5 p.m., and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and all major holidays.
        The Toledo Museum of Art is located at 2445 Monroe St. at Scottwood Avenue, just west of the downtown business district and a block off I-75.
        Call 419-255-8000 or visit toledomuseum.org for more information.


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