In Search of the New: Art in Tennessee after 1900
At the opening of the 20th century, Tennessee was transitioning from a primarily agrarian economy to a mixed one. Artistic tastes would also change in this period. With the advent of photography, hard-edged reality could be captured by a camera much cheaper and truer than a painter could achieve. Artists began to go out with newly invented chemically-produced pigments in paint tubes, and that freed them to paint outdoors from reality, rather than from sketches. Experiments in new ways of depicting the world also very gradually crept into Tennessee as well. Artists represented in this show include Mayna Treanor Avent and Willie Betty Newman, two woman artists who went to Paris in the late nineteenth century to take painting lessons. When they returned home to Tennessee with their newly acquired training, their work brought new ways of showing the world around them. Other artists visited the state, or passed through, including Will Henry Stevens, Rudolph Ingerle, and Ernest Lawson. The Great Depression brought opportunity as well as hardship, with the WPA paying artists to create murals for government buildings across the state. You’ll discover several examples of studies by Dean Cornwell, Luis Mora, and George Davidson in the collection. Following World War II, artists such as Philip Perkins, who had worked in Paris before the war, came back home. European artists like Eugene Vitale Biel-Bienne also came to Tennessee from Paris, and taught other artists. These influences began to move some of our artists to use expressionism, abstraction, and surrealism.
Tennessee artists now are very much attuned to the latest styles and methods used in all forms of artistic expression. Nashville-natives Red Grooms and Robert Ryman have made international names for themselves. Margaret Ellis made a name for herself with a jewelry line, and Richard Jolley is an internationally known glass artist. At the same time our traditional crafts are also thriving. Akira and Larry Blount made dolls that are widely collected. William Edmondson is a legend in outsider sculpture. Wendy Maruyama brought a new style of Studio Furniture to the Appalachian Center for Crafts. Mark Taylor makes some of the finest musical instruments today. All of them are a reminder that the arts are very much alive and well in Tennessee.