Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art celebrating Auburn and Alabama’s artistic legacy with two summer exhibitions

Published: June 19, 2019
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Two new exhibitions at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University have opened this June, each offering compelling insight into the storied artistic tradition of Auburn and East Alabama.

“Fire and Water: Prints by Florence Neal” and “The Artistic Legacy of Alabama Polytechnic Institute” will both run until Sept. 8, giving museum visitors a summer-long opportunity to view the paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture of influential faculty and alumni from Auburn’s API years and the specialized relief printmaking of Auburn University Department of Art and Art History alumna Florence Neal. Neal will also be conducting an in-person printmaking workshop at the museum in September.

The Florence Neal and API exhibitions are components of the Alabama Bicentennial commemoration, a three-year statewide initiative to encourage and promote Alabama’s rich history and culture through a variety of educational programs and events.

“Both exhibitions reflect aspects of the arts at Auburn,” said Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions, who notes Neal’s own significant connections to API’s legacy. “Florence’s father was an architect in Columbus, Georgia, where she grew up. Her father was an API alumnus, graduating in 1950, and the majority of works exhibited in ‘Fire and Water’ were purchased with funds provided to the museum in honor of her father.”

Neal, who graduated from Auburn with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1976, afterward moved to New York City. In 1990, she co-founded the Kentler International Drawing Space, a non-profit gallery and archive in Red Hook, Brooklyn, dedicated to promoting the drawings and works on paper of under-recognized artists.

While Neal’s art spans many different types of media, her specialty of relief printwork will be the focus of “Fire and Water.” The exhibition features a collection of earlier linocut prints and newer images using the Japanese “mokuhanga” technique—the words “moku” and “hanga” translating to “wood” and “print.”

“In ‘mokuhanga,’ the artist creates prints from hand-carved woodblocks using the traditional tools and technique of 17th century Japanese ‘ukiyo-e’ prints,” said Christy Barlow, educational curator for Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art. “Hand printing and the natural elements of wood, water pigment and paper are integral to the technique.”

Neal will give live demonstrations of the ‘mokuhanga’ process during her residence at the museum in early September.

“Florence will be at Jule Collins Smith Museum from Sept. 4-6,” Barlow said. “She will set up a studio space in the Grand Gallery where she’ll create prints. It will be a fantastic opportunity for museum visitors to meet a contemporary working artist and observe her creative process firsthand.”

While at Auburn, Neal studied under Maltby Sykes, whose work will be on view in the second June exhibition, “The Artistic Legacy of API,” which gathers the work of influential teachers and their students from Auburn’s years as Alabama Polytechnic Institute.

Auburn, known as Alabama Polytechnic Institute, or “API,” from 1899–1960, existed as a small agricultural and engineering college during the first half of the 20th century. The influence of professors such as Sykes, Opelika native Harry Lowe and, most prominently, Frank Applebee was crucial in cultivating the forward-looking artistic legacy that would shape the art department and guide the creative growth and direction of its many talented students.

“The general time frame for the survey is 1926, when Frank Applebee was brought in to teach visual arts within the School of Architecture, through 1960, when API became Auburn University,” Harper said.

Applebee, who founded the art department at API, also served as the driving force in the 1948 acquisition of the modern paintings in the Advancing American Art collection—the cornerstone asset of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art.

The works of Applebee, Sykes and Lowe will be featured along with those of several other API professors and students including Basil Cimino, Dorrance Kiser, Joseph Marino-Merlo and Mary Donnave “Donnie” Brennan.

“This exhibition shines a light on some of the important teachers and alumni at API who brought a level of sophistication in the arts not only to Alabama but the region,” said Harper. “They were conversant in current trends, active internationally, and dedicated equally to their own art and meaningful instruction.”

The exhibitions are presented in part with generous support from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the Alabama Bicentennial Commission as part of the museum’s ongoing celebration of the Alabama bicentennial.

“Fire and Water: Prints by Florence Neal” is on view through Sept. 8 in the Noel and Kathryn Wadsworth Gallery. “The Artistic Legacy of API” is on view through Sept. 8 in the Chi Omega–Hargis Gallery. “Creative Cadences: Works by Roger and Greg Brown,” also presented as part of the AL200 celebration, is on view now through Nov. 3 in the Bill L. Harbert Gallery and Gallery C. All three exhibitions are free and open to the public. A recommended donation of $5 is appreciated.

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