New exhibits create historical journey at Crystal Bridges

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 76 views 

A slice of Americana is the essence behind the exhibit  “Angels & Tomboys”  which portrays girlhood in the 19th Century through the eyes of period artists.

Curated over the past two years this collection offers is a step back in time for girls and women of all ages at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

And just down the hall, visitors can also spend time getting an inside look at the life of George Washington; from viewing his hand drawings as a 19-year-old land surveyor to closely examining the president’s last will and testament.

These two displays open Saturday, June 29 at the museum.

Curator Kevin Murphy said more than 70 art masterpieces come together in “Angels & Tomboys” to weave an eloquent story of girlhood from the innocence of children’s play through the rude awakening of the Civil War and into the coming of age.

He said dozens of hours were spent by the curators and staff to stage this world-class collection that features the creative talents of John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins, as well as Cecilia Beaux and Mary Cassat.

These works hail from galleries and private collections across the entire country and Murphy said assembling them all together in this one exhibit is no easy feat.

The expansive exhibit is spread throughout four rooms, each painted in historical period colors as researched by the staff.

“I crowd-sourced the color pallet for these rooms, it was a little weird asking ladies what colors their bedrooms were as a child,” Murphy said Thursday (June 27) during a media tour of the new exhibits.

He said that was how he selected the pale pink, blue and green used in this display. A bold, bright red is used as the backdrop for several art pieces that depict the Civil War period and the toll it took on young girls of that era.

The earliest art in the collection depicts the pre-adolescent child as androgynous, with boys and girls looking the same and dressing the same. The only hint of gender is by the toy or prop held in their hands.

“Children, especially girls, were often the subject of post-Civil War paintings, as they represented the future and moving forward as a nation reunited,” Murphy said. “These are the girls who became the New American Woman, and what they were able to accomplish after the Civil War led to a certain amount of freedom for subsequent generations. The girls depicted in these artworks grew up to be the mothers of suffragettes,and the grandmothers of women like Rosie the Riveter, represented in the Norman Rockwell work in our permanent collection.”

The collection shows the complex nature of growing up female at a time when men, alone, ruled the world. This complexity is seen in the mischievous tomboys found in Lilly Martin Spencer’s paintings and the pure angels in the works of Abbot Handerson Thayer, both are on display in this exhibit.

While the “Angels & Tomboys” exhibit  is organized by the Newark Museum and was previously displayed at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. It is sponsored at Crystal Bridges by Boyce Billingsley, Greenwood Gearhart Inc., Meza Harris and NWA Media/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Tickets are $5 for adults.

A few dozen historical documents in the “Surveying George Washington” exhibit help to teach today’s American about one of its most famous forefathers.

The entire collection is on loan from the Harlan R. Crow Library in Dallas and includes documents written by Washington himself, or by contemporaries who knew him.

The collection includes a handwritten letter to General John Cadwalader of the Pennsylvania militia, appealing to him for troops to continue the push against British outposts in New Jersey during the War for Independence. There is also a handwritten letter by Washington’s private secretary Tobias Lear, announcing Washington’s death in 1799. 

“George Washington’s life was rich and varied. Many of us know he was a farmer, but he was also a pioneer in agricultural science,” said Crystal Bridges Director of Education and Exhibitions Niki Stewart.

“We know he was a soldier, but we may not remember that his military career began in the British forces. This exhibition gives us the chance to learn a little more about the father of our country, through his words and the words of those who knew him well. It’s a wonderful chance to see rare historic documents paired with works of art and create a new impression of George Washington in our minds.”

A touch-screen kiosk accompanying the exhibition will offer guests the opportunity to virtually handle a few key documents in the exhibition.

“Surveying George Washington” is sponsored by Susan and Chip Chambers and Randy and Valorie Lawson / Lawco Energy Group. There is no charge to view this exhibit.