Over 80 items were recently added to the Museum’s collection with a large selection of decorative arts pieces. The most substantial donation was made by Lynne Waterman with a donation consisting of 77 individual pieces including a portrait medallion with the Sèvres porcelain image of Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III. Other notable pieces in the donation include a Tiffany inkwell, several miniature portrait paintings and an etching by Ellsworth Woodward of Newcomb College.
Two artists also made donations. Texas-based artist Jim Keller donated a mesquite wood, ring shaped object titled Bugatti which is #46 in his Evolution of the Wheel Series and is featured in the current issue of the Museum’s newsletter, Fine Lines. A recent oil on canvas by Mitchell Johnson titled Apron that features large swaths of pastel colors was given by the artist.
On the occasion of the Mobile opening of the exhibition Successions: Prints by African Americans from the Jean and Robert Steele Collection, organized by the David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, College Park, the silkscreen print Yoruba Couple by David C. Driskell was donated to the Museum by the David C. Driskell Center.
The 2007 print was created to coincide with the Driskell Center occupying a new home at the Cole Student Activities Building in College Park. David Driskell and Mobile native Dr. Robert E. Steele, the Driskell Center’s executive director, made the surprise presentation at the Members’ Reception on January 21st.
In Yoruba Couple, Driskell revisits the imagery inspired by his first trip to Africa, specifically Nigeria. The experience originally produced several woodblock prints, one of which was reused in the creative process of this technically accomplished print created with the assistance of master printer Curlee Raven Holton. Easily recognizable, the “couple” references the Ibeji, the Divine Twins, so essential to Yoruba cultural practices. The Yoruba people have the highest naturally occurring rates for the birth of twins among any culture, but not all survive. To counteract any potential danger should one die, small wooden figures are carved to act as a substitute and dwelling place for the soul of the deceased twin. Many daily ritual practices surround these figures, and the tradition has survived despite the struggles of colonialism, enslavement, religious conversion, and modernity. Driskell’s use of the Ibeji honors the cultural legacy that these figures evoke both in Africa and among African Americans. The print is included in the currently touring retrospective of his graphic work Evolution: Five Decades of Printmaking by David C. Driskell.
Artist, art historian, collector, curator, and educator, David C. Driskell is among the most honored of contemporary artists, having received nine honorary doctoral degrees and the National Humanities Medal awarded by President Clinton in 2000. His paintings and prints are in major museums throughout the world, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Yale University Art Gallery.
He began his distinguished career at Alabama’s Talladega College, with subsequent posts at Fisk University and the University of Maryland, College Park. 2006 saw the 30th anniversary of his pioneering exhibition and catalogue for Two Centuries of Black American Art (1976) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which has become the cornerstone for the study of African American art history. Since 1977 he has served as cultural advisor to both William H. (Bill) Cosby and his wife Camille and curator of the Cosby Collection of Fine Arts. In 2007, he was elected as a National Academician by the National Academy.
Among the pioneering American artists working in clay in the late 1950s who transformed the world of ceramic art, Toshiko Takaezu (b.1922) stands with Robert Arneson and Peter Voulkos. Thanks to the generosity of the artist, the Museum now represents her achievements with five of her signature “closed form” vessels from the 1980s and ‘90s and a platter from the 1960s.
Takaezu enjoyed an active career of more than 50 years. She stopped working several years ago and has devoted her energy to placing her prodigious output in museum collections. To qualify, a museum must already have a piece of her work in their collection. Fortunately, the Museum has a vase dating from Takaezu’s time at the Cranbrook Academy of Arts in the early 1950s. She began at Cranbrook as a pupil, then became an assistant to Maija Grotell, and eventually taught summer sessions herself.
Eva I. Gatling, a prominent museum professional and one-time Fairhope resident, worked at Cranbrook during these years and acquired the vase. Phyllis Springen and Dr. Donald K. Springen later gifted it to the Museum’s collection. Takaezu’s personal gifts to the collection were made during an October visit to her home and studio in Quakertown, New Jersey.
The “closed form” for which Takaezu is credited is part of the contemporary transformation of ceramic art from functionality and ornamentation into sculptural form. Only a small opening remains at the top to recall the original open form.
“You can’t put anything in and you can’t take anything out,” Takaezu has said. “... You can’t see the dark area inside, but it’s there; I think that’s a mystery.”
Takaezu’s forms are very much inspired by nature; eggs, fruit, stones and figures, never quite perfect, but quiet and familiar. A true painter, her glazes are applied spontaneously, in an inspired moment, full of energy, contrasting against the quiet form and exhibiting inspiration from Japanese folk pottery and the Zen approach to intuition and formal simplification, which she studied during an eight-month visit to Japan in 1955-1956.
Honored by her native state with the Hawaii Living Treasure Award, the American Craft Council’s Gold Medal Award and an honorary doctorate degree from Princeton University, Takaezu has exerted wide influence as a teacher, first at the Cleveland Institute of Art for 10 years and at Princeton University from 1966-1992. She also taught for two decades at Skidmore College’s summer art program.
Mobile, Al – September 9, 2009 - Simka Simkhovitch’s Black Church Supper has been reunited with his earlier study of that painting after being separated for more than 20 years. The 1936 painting has been part of the Mobile Museum of Art’s permanent collection since 1984 while the study remained with Simkhovitch’s estate. The recent purchase of this revealing composition was due in part to a pair of docents, Virgina and Betty Kerth, who stumbled upon the Simkhovitch study while searching for additional information about the artist and painting for a guided tour.
“In the last year the Museum has tried to construct more tours specifically for adults,” Chief Curator Paul Richelson said. “This has prompted docents to revisit paintings which have already proven popular with our youthful visitors, and Black Church Supper is one of them.”
While preparing a specialized tour for a local university, Virginia and Betty found the study listed for sale on a gallery website operated by Simkhovitch’s granddaughter. Realizing the benefit this painting could have for the Museum, Director Tommy McPherson and Paul Richelson contacted the seller within hours of learning about the Simkhovitch study to make the purchase. The decision was made even easier by Virginia Kerth’s donation to cover the acquisition.
Simka Simkhovitch was thirty-one years old when he came to the United States from his native Russia in 1924. His principal inspiration drew upon the experiences of his daily life. The study for Black Church Supper depicts an African-American woman serving guests seated at a table. The woman is leaning close to a diner with an apparent smile on her face. However, the final painting has a more somber feel with the woman’s smile replaced with a solemn expression and no longer face to face with the diner. Having visited Mississippi around the time Black Church Supper was created it is possible the scene depicted is one Simkhovitch witnessed while visiting the South. Both paintings are currently displayed side by side in the Museum’s Katharine C. Cochrane Gallery.