I recently visited family in Mississippi and aside from eating an unbelievable amount of Soul Food (I really could not get enough of the fried pickles) I was on the hunt for art. I lived down there when I was younger and didn’t take notice of any particular “art scene” outside of the University of Southern Mississippi. If you had asked me to define “Southern Art” last month I would not have been able to tell you even though I am an artist and spent a good deal of time growing up in Mississippi. Because of one show that is currently touring around I have a better understanding of what The South has to offer.“Tradition/Innovation: American Masterpieces of Southern Craft and Traditional Art” was on display in the newly renovated train station. Most of the items were folk art. There were lots of handmade baskets and pottery, furniture and quilts.
This quilt by Shawne Major took hold of my attention as soon as I entered the exhibit. Colorful, fun, and filled with doll heads and plastic fruit. “Choosing objects and materials that draw upon her working class Southern background, she reforms them into works reminiscent of childhood memory.”
This quilt lures you in with pretty translucent layers of swirling black chiffon, but you will soon notice that the swirls form the shape of a tree with a man hanging from it. Get closer and you see that the background is covered in newspaper clippings going back to the 1800’s documenting lynchings. Also included were lists of states with all the names of the men and women who were lynched.
It was a powerful work of art, made even more so by the fact it was a QUILT which typically offers comfort. That piece stayed with me. I was surprised and glad that work like this could be out in the open for people to see and discuss – in Hattiesburg, MS no less.
Another favorite artist in the show was Alice Ballard who veered away from ‘folk’ of all the artists there. I love her organic ceramic forms.
ABOUT THE SHOW:
“A project of the National Endowment for the Arts and South Arts, Tradition/Innovation: American Masterpieces of Southern Craft and Traditional Art features more then 100 artworks created by masters living and working in the South today. One of South Arts’ most popular exhibits, Tradition/Innovation will begin touring nationally in June 2011. Audiences from communities throughout the country will be introduced to master artists and craftspeople living and working in the South today. Among the artists in the exhibit are six recipients of the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship, the country’s highest honor for traditional artists. Some will be forms familiar to Americans as “Southern”: quilting, sweetgrass basketry, face jugs and woodcarving. Others may surprise, from contemporary jewelry and bookmaking to art glass. Many works straddle the line between traditional materials and contemporary expression: Craig Nutt’s wooden Celery and Peppers Chair; Elizabeth Brim’s iron Floral Apron; and Gwendolyn Magee’s quilt series Blood of the Slaughtered.” http://www.southarts.org/site/c.guIYLaMRJxE/b.4284307/k.A6A6/Touring_Exhibits.htm