The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has added 34 works from prominent African American painters, sculptors, and other artists to its collection, recently acquired from the Atlanta-based Souls Grown Deep Foundation as part of a gift/purchase program to broaden the representation of African American artists from the South in art museums across the country.
Thornton Dial, Lonnie Holley, Ronald Lockett, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Mose Toliver, Jesse Aaron, James “Son Ford” Thomas and Purvis Young are just some of the artists featured in the forthcoming exhibit, along with a small collection of quilts by the women of Gee’s Bend, Alabama.
“Collectively, these artworks will help to expand our narrative around modern and contemporary art by including works by artists whose extraordinary talents were nurtured through informal educational frameworks such as familial traditions and social engagement rather than conventional art schools or university study,” said Valerie Cassel Oliver, VMFA’s Sydney and Frances Lewis family curator of modern and contemporary art in a statement.
Launched by art historian and collector William S. Arnett in 2010, The Souls Grown Deep Foundation strives to preserve and promote the artwork of self-taught and unknown contemporary artists from the Southeastern United States and since 2014, the foundation has provided over 200 works to art museums.
With a collection of 1,200 works collected over the span of 30 years, the foundation has been able to add to the narrative of contemporary American art history and shed light on many African American artists that have yet to receive any spotlight.
“We are thrilled to add the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to the growing list of museums across the country that are helping to advance the mission of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation by collecting and presenting art of the African American South. By partnering with these leading institutions and continuing to increase the visibility and accessibility of artworks by these important artists, we can reshape the narrative of American art,” said Maxwell L. Anderson, president of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, in a recent release.
Featured artist Thorton Dial focused on making art out of metal rods, scraps, and other materials for sculptures after the plant where he spent his days as a metalworker in Emelle, Alabama shut down. Dial’s pieces tackled political and social issues as well as celebrated African American culture.
The 13 quilts that will be on display at the VMFA as part of this exhibit were created by a group of African American women that lived in the isolated, rural community of Gee’s Bend (Boykin), which is just southwest of Selma, Alabama. The quiltmaking tradition was passed down through generations of women in the community, and through using recycled clothing, feed sacks, and fabric, the women were able to create bold, vibrant, geometric works of art. The Souls Grown Deep Foundation was able to pass on quilts from four generations of Pettways and two generations of Bendolphs, as well as works by Ruth Kennedy, Nell Hall Williams, and Nettie Young.
The quilts in this collections were created in the early 1970s for a Sears, Roebuck, and Co. initiative that contracted the Alberta-based Freedom Quilting Bee, a sewing cooperative near Gee’s Bend to produce pillow covers using wild-wale cotton corduroy. The quilts comprising this acquisition are part of the Corduroy Series.
The 34 pieces will be on display in the VMFA’s Evans Court Galleries starting June 8 until Nov. 17.
Top Photo By: Little Top to the Big Top, 1993, Lonnie B. Holley (American, born 1950), metal lids, pocketbook, eating utensils, garden hose, oven rack, chain, wood, wire, found metal. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund and Partial gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. Photo by Ron Lee/The Silver Factory© Lonnie Holley/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.