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July 2011

Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, SC, Offers Two New Exhibitions

The Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, SC, will present two new exhibitions from July 22 through Oct. 16, 2011. The Creative Spirit: Vernacular Art from the Gadsden Arts Center Permanent Collection, organized by the Gadsden Arts Center in Quincy, FL, will be on view in the Main Gallery. The exhibit features paintings, drawings, and sculpture by the foremost self-taught artists of the American South. The exhibit, In Search of Julien Hudson: Free Artist of Color in Pre-Civil War New Orleans, was co-organized by Worcester Art Museum and The Historic New Orleans Collection. The exhibition, on view in the Gibbes’ Rotunda Galleries, is the first retrospective of the brief - but important - career of portraitist Julien Hudson, one of the earliest documented free artists of color working in the 19th century.

“The complimentary nature of these two exhibitions underscores our desire to present new and interesting juxtapositions to our community. Both exhibitions document the power of the creative spirit in the face of adversity,” stated Angela D. Mack, Executive Director.

The Creative Spirit: Vernacular Art from the Gadsden Arts Center Permanent Collection showcases the expressive artwork created by self-taught artists who are driven by their creative spirit. Centered around works of art by the most acclaimed southern vernacular artist, Thornton Dial Sr., the exhibition also includes other well known self-taught artists such as Lonnie Holley, Joe Light, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Mose Tolliver, and Purvis Young.

Most of the artists represented in the exhibition are of African-American descent and have lived in rural parts of the Deep South for a significant period in their lives. The artists share many characteristics including growing up in poverty with limited education and exposure to the outside world and a strong religious upbringing and family influence. The Creative Spirit demonstrates the communal and therapeutic function that art can play in the lives of artists.

Discovered by the curator and art collector William Arnett in 1987, Thornton Dial, Sr. is viewed by many curators as one of the great creative minds of our time. He is widely known for his representations of the tiger which he uses as a symbol of the African-American man’s struggle for freedom, and for giving new life to found materials through his artwork. He collects old carpet, rope, fence, clothes and more to build his art and then uses paint to finish the piece. For most of his life, Dial was unaware that he was making art; he was just acting on an unconscious need to create things. His art brings attention to such themes as racial inequality, relationships between men and women, and struggles in the modern world. The Indianapolis Museum of Art is currently touring his first career retrospective exhibition titled Hard Truths.

The Creative Spirit: Vernacular Art from the Gadsden Arts Center Permanent Collection was made possible in part by Dr. Lou and Mrs. Calynne Hill, Dr. Jim and Mrs. Betty Ann Rodgers, and the Gadsden Arts Endowment Trust, Inc. The exhibition at the Gibbes is sponsored by BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina.

In Search of Julien Hudson: Free Artist of Color in Pre-Civil War New Orleans explores the influence of free people of color in New Orleans during the 19th century. Historically, free people of color, or gens de couleur libres, were people of African and often mixed Afro-European descent who had either been born into freedom or gained their liberty through other means. The population created a third segment to the racial classification system - occupying a complicated middle ground between whites and slaves.

From the early 18th century to the close of the Civil War, free people of color flourished in several American cities, including Baltimore and Charleston, but New Orleans was home to the largest such population in the nation. In 1810, free people of color represented 29 percent of the city’s population. This exhibition - which began its three-city tour in New Orleans - strives to bring the community’s influence to the forefront by examining the work of Julien Hudson, his mentors, contemporaries, and competitors.

Julien Hudson was the first native Louisiana artist and the second earliest-known portraitist of African heritage to have worked in the United States. Born Jan. 9, 1811, Hudson was the son of a property-owning free woman of color and an English merchant. A French-speaking Catholic raised primarily by women, Hudson lived in a city where his racial ancestry and status as a free person of color left him forever straddling the line between freedom and slavery.

Hudson’s own story reveals the mobility available to some free people - or more specifically, native-born free men - of color. He began studying painting as a young man in the mid-1820s. In New Orleans, he trained first with itinerant miniaturist Antonio Meucci and later with German painter François (Franz) Fleischbein, but he also took two trips to Paris, where he studied with well-known French painter Alexandre-Denis Abel de Pujol. Unfortunately, Hudson’s career was short - he died in 1844 at age 33. The circumstances surrounding his death are a mystery. All that remains of his body of work are five paintings by his hand and two attributed to him by stylistic affinity. This exhibition marks the first time that his complete catalogue will be displayed. Approximately 30 additional works by Hudson’s contemporaries and mentors are included in the exhibition, along with a special showing of miniature portraits from the Gibbes collection.

In Search of Julien Hudson: Free Artist of Color in Pre-Civil War New Orleans is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts’ American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Creative Genius. Initial research was funded by a grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art.

In conjunction with the exhibition, The Historic New Orleans Collection has released In Search of Julien Hudson, featuring more than 60 full-color reproductions of paintings, sculptures, and drawings by Hudson, his mentors and contemporaries. The publication was written by art historian and guest curator William Keyse Rudolph and historian Patricia Brady.

Established as the Carolina Art Association in 1858, the Gibbes Museum of Art opened its doors to the public in 1905. Located in Charleston’s historic district, the Gibbes houses a premier collection of over 10,000 works, principally American with a Charleston or Southern connection, and presents special exhibitions throughout the year. In addition, the museum offers an extensive complement of public programming and educational outreach initiatives that serve the community by stimulating creative expression and improving the region’s superb quality of life.

For further information check our SC Institutional Gallery listings, call the Museum at 843/722-2706 or visit (

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