Thursday, February 25, 2016

From the Permanent Collection: "Boys Pilfering Molasses" by George Henry Hall

Last month, we posted about two recently acquired 19th-century American genre scenes from our permanent collection (“Winter Morning” by George Washington Nicholson and “The Kitten” by Thomas Waterman Wood). In contrast to these works, which were painted after the Civil War and provide some insight into images of race during the era, the politically charged “Boys Pilfering Molasses” by George Henry Hall was painted and exhibited shortly before the onset of the Civil War.

In 1854, the year that Hall was inducted as an associate member of the National Academy of Design in New York, he presented this transfiguration of the “naughty child” genre as a commentary on the divisive politics of abolitionism. One pernicious effect of the abolitionist debates of the 1850s was the revival of the slave trade under the guise of legitimate commerce. As the son of a ship-timber merchant, Hall knew of the legal and illicit trade happening at New York City’s harbor. The port became infamous for clearing 15,000 slavers a year. Ingeniously, “Licking Lasses” serves as Hall’s commentary on a perpetual slave trade cloaked in the innocence of capitalist commerce. The artist uses the conventions of genre painting, including the popular subject of children pilfering food, to make them speak to the most pressing concerns of New York and the nation.

George Henry Hall, Boys Pilfering Molasses (or Licking Lasses), 1853 

Hall’s African American boy displays the stereotyped depictions of the antebellum “Happy Sambo,” though not egregiously so. The boy heaps brown molasses on the white bread as if painting a canvas with a palette knife or running a bow over a fiddle. His eyes, nostrils and open lips wait in excitement. He alone has yet to taste what his companions already consume. The white youths turn their backs on him, and, as they victoriously sit and lean on the barrel, they dreamily yet unequivocally indulge in their looted booty. The composition suggests that their aggressive mischief has consequences for the black boy’s fate, as the bread he so attentively butters with the spoils of their pillaging forms the symbolic center of the composition.

“Licking Lasses” also alludes to allegories of the five senses. Taste in particular is a vice fully enacted by the white companions, who slobber over the molasses. Hall’s fair-haired boy, seated victoriously on the molasses barrel, takes on the blushed complexion and mindless gaze of a drunken stupor. His clothes are the most tattered, his shirt shredded as if from whiplashes, and it barely covers his sensuous flesh. Brown molasses oozes from the barrel, soiling all three lads, but none more so than the uppermost boy. He turns his back on the harbor and his African American companion; an upturned cap by his foot suggests begging. The scene symbolizes the greedy appetites that have split the nation, just as the two white boys oppose each other in dress and position: open shirt versus suit coat; one boy faces out, the other in; one rises to the top, the other stays below, occupying the north and south of the picture. Hall makes his condemnation even more explicit by including sails with the letters S, T and E — that is, “Slave Trade Empire.”

The carefully chosen title reinforces the visual and verbal puns of this condemnatory painting. As a mid–nineteenth-century edition of Webster’s Dictionary reminds us, “lick” means to lap, to devour, to consume entirely. But it also means to strike, to whip, to flog, to chastise. By exhibiting his painting under the title “Licking Lasses,” Hall alluded not only to the lapping up of molasses but also to the punishing “licks” and “lashes” inflicted on enslaved African Americans and, by its complicity, on the American Empire, due to its greedy appetite.

Adapted from an essay by Janice Simon in "One Hundred American Paintings," Georgia Museum of Art, 2011.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Eighth Henry D. Green Symposium of the Decorative Arts

Earlier this month, the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia held its eighth Henry D. Green Symposium of the Decorative Arts. Scholars from across the state, region and nation attended to deliver original research papers devoted to this year's theme: “Folk and Folks: Variations on the Vernacular.” Some of the topics included Georgia stoneware flower vessels; Catawba pottery; English pottery influences in North Georgia; South Carolina fraktur; Moravian influence in Georgia; the story of a southern needlework object whose maker had South African and Virginia associations; a group of Georgia sisters who pursued a 19th-century style of living into modern times; early Athens portraiture; and the depiction of early southern folk craft in the photography of Doris Ulmann. Robert M. Hicklin Jr., proprietor of Charleston Renaissance Gallery, delivered the keynote speech, “The Story of Southern, in Pictures,” in which he described the excitement and headiness of the marketplace in the 1980s and 1990s, when he participated in the discovery of many icons of southern art and craft. 

Keynote speech, held at the Georgia Center at UGA.

Katherine Gross Farnham receiving the Henry D. Green Lifetime
Achievement Award for the Decorative Arts.
Linda N. Beard discussing Belleek porcelain with speaker Joseph Litts.

UGA President Jere Morehead with museum director William U. Eiland at 90 Carlton: Winter,
 the reception following the keynote speech.

To see more photos from the symposium, visit our album on Flickr.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Honoring Emma Amos and Michael L. Thurmond for their Contributions to Art and Culture in Georgia

On February 26, we are proud to be honoring Emma Amos and Michael L. Thurmond during our annual Black History Month awards dinner. Amos will be receiving the Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Award for her contribution to the visual arts in Georgia, and Thurmond, a native of Athens, Georgia, is the recipient of our 2016 Lillian C. Lynch Citation for his tireless dedication to public service and cultural education in Georgia. Here at the museum, we stand in awe of their esteemed careers.

Emma Amos

Emma Amos. Photograph by Becket Logan.
Emma Amos’ rich career in the visual arts spans over 50 years, and encompasses textile work, illustration, painting, prints and art education. Amos has been recognized for her ability to integrate race and gender politics into her pieces and her work has played a vital role in the historic representation of black subjects in art. Amos was also involved in several feminist collectives, including the magazines Heresies and M/E/A/N/I/N/G. Her style, characterized by a complex use of color, composition, and abstract representations, is praised for its unique versatility.

Emma Amos, Hope, 2012. Acrylic on linen and African 
fabric borders. 78.5 x 61 inches. Photographed by Becket Logan.
Born in Atlanta, her first solo exhibition was in 1960, where she exhibited her own artwork and prints. Soon after her debut, she moved to New York City. In 1961, she was hired by designer Dorothy Liebes to create a series of original designs, weavings and rugs for textile manufacturing. In the late 1960s, Amos worked for Sesame Street magazine as an illustrator. From 1977–79, she developed and hosted an educational television program in Boston called Show of Hands, which featured different crafting lessons. Amos was the only female member of the artist group Spiral, a group of influential black artists featuring Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis and Charles Alston.

Amos also has had a successful career in art education. After discovering a passion for teaching while working as a teaching assistant, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in art education at New York University in 1964. By 1980, she was an assistant professor at the Mason Gross School of Art and went on to earn tenure and serve as department chair from 2005 to 2008, when she retired. Amos, still living in New York, continues to create and exhibit her art nationally. In addition to honoring Amos with the Thompson award, the Georgia Museum of Art is also organizing a major retrospective of her work.

Michael L. Thurmond

Michael L. Thurmond. Image: Rome News-Tribune
Throughout his prosperous and impressive career as attorney, public servant, lecturer and author, Thurmond has been a role model to residents of Athens–Clarke County, Georgia, and his exceptional service as a politician has aided thousands of Georgians across the state.

Thurmond is currently an attorney with Butler Wooten Cheeley & Peak LLP. Thurmond holds a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy from Paine College and a doctor of law from the University of South Carolina School of Law. He currently lives in Atlanta with his wife, Zola. They are both proud members of The Ebenezer Baptist Church West of Athens. A dedicated history buff, Thurmond also presides over the Board of Curators of the Georgia Historical Society, whose mission is to promote and preserve the history of Georgia. His recent book, Freedom: Georgia’s Antislavery Heritage 1733–1865, has received multiple awards and honors.

Born the son of a sharecropper, Thurmond began his career in government. In 1986, he became the first African American man from Clarke County since the Reconstruction era to be elected to the Georgia General Assembly. His work in Athens–Clarke County continued when he was hired in 1997 to teach at the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government. Though he left shortly after being elected as Georgia Labor Commissioner, Thurmond will always be considered an honorary bulldog.

Some of Thurmond’s greatest accomplishments for the state of Georgia took place during his time as commissioner. In that role, Thurmond created the nationally celebrated Georgia Works program, which has been used as a model for the American Jobs Act. Thurmond also spearheaded the construction of two buildings in Georgia: a $20 million school for young people with disabilities at the historic Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation and a new Cave Spring Rehabilitation Center on the campus of the Georgia School for the Deaf. As if these accomplishments weren’t enough, between 2013 and 2015, Thurmond served as Dekalb County School System Superintendent, where he raised graduation rates and turned the budget deficit into an $80 million surplus. We look forward to celebrating Michael L. Thurmond’s accomplishments here at the museum. 

Click here if you would like to become a dinner sponsor. Individual tickets to the Black History Month awards dinner are sold out, but please email or call 706.542.4199 if you would like to be placed on a wait list while we assess additional seating availability.

Madison Bledsoe
Public Relations Intern

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Tradition Redefined: Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson

Last month, we introduced Shawnya Harris, our new Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Curator of African American and African Diasporic Art. Harris’s position on our curatorial staff was funded by an endowment by Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson, generous donors who have created a lasting legacy here at the museum. This week, we celebrate the Thompsons for their contributions to the education and cultural enrichment of the museum and its community.

Tradition Redefined: Brenda A. and Larry D. Thompson

In 2011, the Thompsons donated 100 works to the Georgia Museum of Art from their private collection of pieces by African American artists. This initial donation echoes the donation by the museum's founder, Alfred Heber Holbrook, who donated 100 American paintings to the people of Georgia in 1945. The Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Collection of African American Art includes paintings, prints and sculpture from the 1890s to present, some of which are on view now in the permanent collection wing at the museum. An upcoming exhibition in early 2017 will feature selections from the Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Collection and highlight additional works by important, yet underrecognized African American artists. In addition, this exhibition will celebrate the inception of the Thompsons’ endowed curatorship. According to museum director William U. Eiland, the Thompsons "have quite simply changed the course of this museum. In effect, the Thompson endowment and the gift of their collection guarantees the ongoing study and exposure of African American artists in Georgia for posterity."

Radcliffe Bailey, 7 Steps (1994). From the Larry D. and
Brenda A. Thompson Collection of African American Art.
On view at the Georgia Museum of Art.
On February 26, the museum will present the Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Award, named in their honor, at its annual Black History Month awards dinner. The award recognizes a living African American visual artist with a significant Georgia connection. This year's winner is artist Emma Amos. To purchase tickets for the dinner or to become a sponsor, click here.

About Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson: Both Larry and Brenda Thompson have significant ties to the University of Georgia and the museum. Larry joined Georgia Law in 2011 as the John A. Sibley Professor in Corporate and Business Law. Having served as former deputy attorney general for the United States and former senior vice president of government affairs, general counsel and secretary for PepsiCo., he now teaches about corporate law and white-collar crime. Previously, he was a partner in the Atlanta office of King & Spalding and served as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, where he directed the Southern Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force and was a member of the Attorney General’s Economic Crime Council. Brenda, a member of the museum’s board of advisors, received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Saint Louis University in 1980. She was an assistant professor at Morehouse College in the department of psychology before focusing on child and adolescent mental health, first as a clinical psychologist and then as a school psychologist. A longtime patron and leader in the arts, she also serves on the board of trustees for the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and for the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Samantha Meyer and Madison Bledsoe contributed to this post.