Editor's note: The following catalogue essay, with accompanying images, was reprinted in Resource Library on November 8, 2011 with permission of the Booth Western Art Museum. If you have questions or comments regarding the text or images, please contact the Booth Western Art Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:



 

Western American Art South of the Sweet Tea Line III

By Jeff Donaldson

 

Western American Art South of the Sweet Tea Line III is the third Booth Museum triennial exhibition showcasing a cross-section of Western American Art from private and public collections in the Southeast. Featuring an eclectic selection of almost 100 works, this exhibition not only tells the story of the evolution of Western American art, but the many stories that connect artists of the past and present with a diverse community of collectors, patrons and art professionals in the South.

The original Sweet Tea exhibition, in 2005, was the first major survey of Western American art in Southern collections mounted by any museum. The concept for the exhibition developed as the Booth staff discovered a surprising wealth of Western art in region. This included rare works by artists not represented in the Booth permanent collection as well as Western subjects that complimented the permanent collection in reflecting the full saga of the American West. The title was coined by then Curator James Burns as a whimsical way for defining the region from which the art was gathered.

The success of the first Sweet Tea exhibition prompted a plan to display a similar medley every three years. In 2008, Sweet Tea II, built along the same general theme as the 2005 version, yielded a parallel theme of relationships in Western Art. The recurring relationships within the art included humanity with nature, nature vs. nature, and both human conflict and cooperation. The exhibition also reflected the Museum becoming more aware of collections in the region and building valuable relationships with private collectors and institutions.

The second exhibition also featured a broader definition of Western art, paralleled soon after by the Booth's 2009 expansion and the re-organization of the permanent collection galleries. Many artists exhibited for the first time at the Booth in Sweet Tea II are now represented in the main galleries or have been the subject of temporary exhibitions. Among these are a widely varied mix from traditional 19th century painters such as Albert Bierstadt to contemporary artists like Dan Namingha. Also displayed for the first time at the Museum in Sweet Tea II were Stan Natchez and Ansel Adams, each the subject of a major Booth exhibition within the last year.

As the scope and caliber of the art work improves with each subsequent Sweet Tea exhibition, it serves to highlight the growing reputation of the Booth Western Art Museum and the increasing enthusiasm for Western art among Southern collectors. Thus Sweet Tea III represents yet another milestone for the Booth Museum community. Developed over a two-year period, this iteration embraces storytelling as an underlying theme. Many different perspectives and viewpoints are represented in the re-telling of the story of the West, but also in the story behind each work and how it came to be in a Sothern collection.

Storytelling is not new for the Booth Museum. It is also integral to the cultures of Native America and the American South. Stories of the West have been popularly represented through movies and literature for generations. However, stories are also "told" through visual art, hardly needing a verbal dimension. Often, when describing why they acquired a painting or sculpture, a collector will say it "spoke to me."

Among the private collectors represented in the exhibition are several prominent Georgia business leaders. S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, lent two Remington sculptures from his vast collection that decorates the company's corporate headquarters. Emory University lent a bronze by Solon Borglum, originally in the personal collection of the late Robert W. Woodruff, prominent Coca-Cola executive and philanthropist. One of Woodruff's favorite artists, Atlanta painter Athos Menaboni, is also represented by a portrait donated to Kennesaw State University by D. Russell Clayton.

Other private collectors may be of lower profile but are highly passionate about their collecting activities. A number of them have greatly expanded the size, scope and quality of their collections through involvement with the Booth's lectures, exhibitions or member trips. The continued growth of these collections should yield even greater selections for future Sweet Tea exhibitions.

Exploration into Southern museum and institutional collections continues to uncover fine Western examples to supplement the material from private collections. Lending institutions include Atlanta's High Museum of Art, providing works from its stellar art photography collection including images by Mark Klett and Richard Misrach. Paintings and sculpture from Birmingham Museum of Art include works by Herman Herzog and Giueseppe Moretti. Meanwhile the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga lends the oldest work in the exhibition, an early frontier painting by George Caleb Bingham. Other institutions lending include the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Lamar Dodd Art Center at LaGrange College, Huntsville Museum of Art in Alabama and Tennessee State Museum in Nashville.

The physical layout of the exhibition represents a sequence of eclectic works loosely reflecting the unfolding story and evolution of Western American art, highlighting artists, genres and movements from around 1850 to the present. The checklist features many celebrated painters and sculptors from the 19th and early 20th century including Frederic Remington, Henry Farny, and Thomas Moran. Regionalist masters Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry and Maynard Dixon carry the traditions forward and a large selection from Taos Society of Artists members offers a representative sample of their work. Bringing the story up to the present are contemporary artists like Deborah Butterfield, George Carlson, Fritz Scholder, Clark Hulings and Glenna Goodacre.

This exhibition also reflects a growing trend in Western art, greater recognition for the contributions of women artists. Among those included are Olive Rush, mentor to Georgia O'Keeffe, sculptor Deborah Butterfield and painter Kay Walkingstick. A work by photographer Imogen Cunningham, a contemporary of Ansel Adams, also highlights a larger representation of photography in this exhibition.

While the reference to the South in the title of this exhibition primarily refers to the region where the art resides, numerous artists from this region are seen telling their stories about the West from the perspective of their homeland. Classically trained artists Gilbert Gaul and George de Forest Brush became renowned for their American Indian subject matter, but they frequently returned to live and work in their native Tennessee. Another artist with strong Southern roots, Elliott Daingerfield, is known as one of North Carolina greatest painters, but he was also one of the first sponsored artists to paint the Grand Canyon.

Native Georgia artists Nell Choate Jones and Lamar Dodd are represented through works resulting from their travels in the West. Meanwhile living Georgia artists Don Cooper and Freddie Styles, create art that relates the actual wildlife and natural resources of the West with the psychological landscape of the West they imagined growing up in Georgia.

This exhibition, and by association this catalog, offer the vicarious opportunity to visit the West, both real and mythic. The following pages serve as a guide book, featuring selected images arranged roughly alphabetically by artist as well as a comprehensive exhibition checklist. Whether you are a long time member of the Booth Museum community or have just been introduced for the first time, your story provides the jumping off point to experience all of the stories this exhibition has to offer!

 

About the author

Jeff Donaldson is Director of Curatorial Services at the Booth Western Art Museum


Images of selected artworks in the exhibition

 

(above: Oscar Edmund Berninghaus (1874 - 1952), Native Home and Corral, 1950, Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches. Collection of Christy Davidson)

 

 

(above: W. Gilbert Gaul (1855 - 1919), Sioux Indian Encampment at Moonlight, ca. 1890, Oil on canvas, 30 x 38 inches. Collection of the Tennessee State Museum)

 

 

(above: Louis J. Treviso (1828 - 1928), Untitled Illustration, ca. 1920, Gouache on paper, 12 x 16 inches. Collection of Dan and Betty Byrd)


Resource Library editor's note:

The above essay was reprinted in Resource Library on November 8, 2011 with permission of the Booth Western Art Museum, which was granted to TFAO on November 7, 2011. The essay was published in the catalogue for the exhibition Western American Art South of the Sweet Tea Line III, on display at the Booth Western Art Museum from September 24, 2011 through February 12, 2012.

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Seth Hopkins, Executive Director of the Booth Western Art Museum, for his help concerning permissions for reprinting the above essay and to Tara Currier, Director of Marketing at the Booth Western Art Museum, for forwarding the images published in connection with the essay.

 

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and biographical information on artists cited in this article in America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Booth Western Art Museum in Resource Library


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