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Vanguard Collecting: American Art at Reynolda House

April 1 to August 21, 2005


This exhibition celebrates the first decade of Reynolda House as a center for the study of American art. Comprised of twenty-five masterpieces of American painting gathered by the institution between 1966 and 1976, the show charts the museum's role in the exciting rediscovery of artists now recognized as household names, including Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, John Singleton Copley, Childe Hassam, and Thomas Eakins. (right: William Merritt Chase, In the Studio, c.1884 from the Reynolda House Collection, Winston-Salem, North Carolina)

Reynolda House opened to the public as a museum of American art in 1967. Almost four decades later, it is hard to remember that this was a radical act. In the 1960s American art remained a stepchild in the close relationship between modernism and European artistic traditions. Only a handful of elite schools offered courses on American art; few museums invested in their American holdings. Reynolda House, incorporated in 1964 and aggressively collecting two years later, stepped into the forefront of a movement to reconsider the American artistic tradition. The founders of the museum, acquiring masterpiece after masterpiece for a decade, transformed the 1917 home of Katharine and R. J. Reynolds into an innovative center for the study of American art. Vanguard Collecting explores and celebrates the first decade of collecting at Reynolda House.

Reynolda House did not collect for the sake of collecting. From the very beginning, the museum gathered art with a mission. Incorporated "to encourage and advance the arts through the public display of fine paintings, sculpture, rare books, art objects, and furniture," Reynolda House embedded its collection in a novel educational program that correlated literature, music, history, and art to offer a rich and nuanced understanding of American culture.

Reynolda House and the field of American art came of age in the decade between 1966 and 1976. American art -- a constellation of overlooked stars -- achieved mainstream respectability during this turbulent period in our nation's history. By assembling a collection extraordinary in quality and developing innovative educational programs, Reynolda House played a leadership role in the field of American art. As the museum enters an exciting new era with the dedication of the Mary and Charlie Babcock wing in 2005, Reynolda House remains in the vanguard.

In the heart of the Reynolda Historic District, Reynolda House, Museum of American Art opened its new 30,000-square-foot, $12 million Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing on April 1, 2005. The education and exhibition wing includes a new visitor center, orientation gallery, video, audio guides, oral history stations, museum store, 2,900-square-foot changing exhibition gallery, two-level auditorium with retractable seating for 190, art library, education studios, and expanded office, art, and collections storage space.

Architect Beyer Blinder Belle's (Architects and Planners LLP, New York, NY) careful design of the spacious Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing is almost invisible from the front of the original house designed by Charles Barton Keen in 1912. Previous projects by Beyer Blinder Belle include the Grand Central Terminal and Rockefeller Center restorations (New York, NY), Ellis Island Museum of Immigration (New York/ New Jersey), Montclair Art Museum (Montclair, NJ), and the NY Historical Society Henry Luce III Center (New York, NY).

Special attention was made to replicate the look and feel of the original house in the new design, down to using the original Ludowici-Celadon roof tiles created by Ludowici Roof Tile, Inc. (Lexington, OH) that Winston-Salem has come to know as "Reynolda Green." New design additions include 1600 square feet of rose-colored granite blocks from quarries in China used to cover the elevator tower and the base of part of the addition.

The exciting restoration of the historic house has returned rooms to their original 1917 appearance from the time of R.J. Reynolds and his family. Rooms formerly closed to the public will be open for viewing. The library, for example, will have its original furnishings covered in dark blue damask during the winter and in bright floral-patterned slipcovers during the summer. Every detail is being recreated, down to gilt sofa feet shaped like crouching lions.

Near-term exhibitions in the gallery of the Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing will include, Vanguard Collecting: American Art at Reynolda House, the inaugural exhibition in the Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing of Reynolda House showcasing the first twenty-five works collected by the museum in the 1960s, and Diane Arbus: Family Albums (September 15­December 4, 2005), a photography exhibition of works examining family during the turbulent 1960s by influential American photographer Diane Arbus and organized by the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas and the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. Both exhibits will be curated by Thomas Denenberg, Reynolda House's new Betsy Main Babcock Curator of American Art.


Vanguard Collecting Exhibit Related Events at Reynolda House:

June 7, 14, and 21, 2005 - Series of Gallery Talks at Reynolda House
Tuesday evening gallery talks will focus on Reynolda House's exhibition, "Vanguard Collecting:American Art at Reynolda House," and will feature local celebrities Kim Underwood, journalist (June 7,) Kenneth Frazelle, composer (June 14,) Jeff Smith, "Smitty's Notes" (June 21,) and Evie Shockley, poet (June 28.) 5:30-6:30 pm.
June 17-18, 2005 - Symposium: Vanguard Collecting: American Art in the 1960s
The symposium will explore the creation of the core Reynolda House collection and the development of American art history in the mid to late 1960s. Museum founder and President Barbara Babcock Millhouse will host the symposium featuring leading American art historians Patricia Hills (Boston University), Robert Hobbs (Rhoda Thalheimer Endowed Chair in the Department of Art History at Virginia Commonwealth University), Wendy Bellion (Rutgers University) and Thomas Denenberg, curator at Reynolda House.

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