By Gina Malone
The seventh annual Voices in American Art lecture will be held Thursday, February 13, at 7 p.m. at Wofford College’s Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts in Spartanburg, SC. Dr. Evie Terrono, professor of art history at Randolph-Macon College, will deliver the keynote address titled “Creativity, Collaborations, and Communal Uplift: The Careers of Southern Women Artists.” The event is free and open to the public.
The Johnson Collection (TJC), a philanthropic art collection based in Spartanburg, presents the lecture series in an effort to bring national arts leaders to the city. Susu and George Johnson’s collection contains more than 1,200 objects housed in galleries in Spartanburg—including more than 40 works from Black Mountain College artists. The works travel in exhibits all over the country, shared with museums without a fee, and are also available for viewing online.
“As people who loved their South—its people and places—Susu and George began collecting Southern art early on,” says Lynne Blackman, TJC’s director of communications. “They filled their house with images that reminded them of home—images that would, years later, become the framework of TJC. For Susu, the pictures depicted the landscape of Western North Carolina, where she had grown up, while George was drawn to genre scenes and history paintings that documented life in South Carolina.”
In addition to gallery and digital offerings, the collection set an agenda for publications and major touring exhibitions, Blackman says. Four books on the history of art in the South have been published since 2013.
“The remarkable strength of the collection lies in its diversity, in its representation not only of Southern art, but American art,” says Dr. Terrono, who contributed a chapter to the collection’s most recent book, Central to Their Lives: Southern Women Artists in the Johnson Collection.
Some of the more than 50 artists represented in the collection and featured in the book include Anni Albers (who taught at Black Mountain College), Nell Blaine and Zelda Fitzgerald. The collection also contains the work of a number of important African American women artists, Terrono notes. “Certainly, Elizabeth Catlett, although not Southern, has been very well-known, but artists such as Selma Burke, Augusta Savage, Alma Thomas and Emma Amos have largely been known to art historians, but relatively unknown to the general public.”
Southern female artists often studied in urban areas with modernists such as William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri, Terrono says. “They gained an understanding of contemporary aesthetic and cultural trends, but then chose to return to the South in order to apply their skills and expertise to nurturing art in their own communities. They were committed to communal uplift and education through the arts: they collaborated, established art institutions, fostered and sustained art museums and strove to improve the cultural outlook of their communities, all the while battling commonly held Northern perceptions of Southern provincialism.”
To learn more, visit TheJohnsonCollection.org. In Spartanburg, find Wofford College at 429 North Church Street and TJC Gallery at 154 West Main Street.