TBT – A decade of exhibitions

The Ackland will celebrate its 60th anniversary this fall and though we’ve been thinking (extensively!) about the future, we couldn’t help but take a quick look back at where we’ve been; we’ve had no shortage of stunning exhibitions throughout our history and we couldn’t be prouder!

Testing Testing: Painting and Sculpture since 1960 from the Permanent Collection
17 July 2015  3 January 2016

Testing Testing showed how art made since 1960 tested possibilities both within and beyond conventional boundaries of art making. Artists used experimentation, innovation, and skill to assess new materials in different combinations while also pushing the envelope of traditional modes, such as figuration and abstraction.

This exhibition presented the Ackland’s largest (and relatively unknown) collection of modern painting and sculpture to date, featuring works by approximately 50 artists such as José Bedia, Sanford Biggers, Anthony Caro, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Thornton Dial, Barkley Hendricks, Rachel Howard, Annette Lemieux, Al Held, Hung Liu (below), Takashi Murakami, Kenneth Noland, Richard Nonas, Jules Olitski, Tony Oursler, Nam June Paik, Philip Pearlstein, Ken Price, Sean Scully, George Segal, Yinka Shonibare, Lorna Simpson, Do-Ho Suh, Stella Waitzkin, John Wesley, and H.C. Westermann.

Genius and Grace: François Boucher and the Generation of 1700
23 January 2015 5 April 2015

Genius and Grace presented exemplary drawings by 27 accomplished artists who influenced the practices of art and draftsmanship for much of the eighteenth century. Their vision, combined with their enormous technical skill, ensured the full realization of the rococo — the bold, graceful, and fluid manner so characteristic of French art of the first half of the eighteenth century. The brilliant career of François Boucher, the best-known artist of his generation, was represented in the show by 19 drawings. Other artists featured in the exhibition included Jean-Antoine Watteau, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Charles-Joseph Natoire, Charles-Antoine Coypel, and Carle Vanloo.

 

In Pursuit of Strangeness: Wyeth and Westermann in Dialogue
14 June 2013  25 August 2013

Through works by Andrew Wyeth and H.C. Westermann, In Pursuit of Strangeness explored diverse responses in American art to the uncanny home, as well as domestic architecture’s role in defining the boundaries between ourselves and the outside world.

Dating from the early twentieth century to the present, the works exemplified the complexities of our relationship to home and place through unsettling perspectives and unusual materials, subverting the understanding of home as familiar (heimlich) and transforming it into something foreign (unheimlich). The exhibition also investigated the difference between a house and a home, as well as how homes become extensions of their inhabitants. In addition to Wyeth and Westermann, other artists in the show included Ralph Gibson, Marilyn Anne Levine, Bruce Nauman, Aaron Siskind, and Minor White, among others.

Catch and Release: Seafood Imagery from the Ackland Art Museum and the North Carolina Museum of Art
26 September 2012  4 November 2012

Catch and Release considered how various cultures throughout history have used and understood seafood. It was the culmination of the new Joan and Robert Huntley Art History Scholarship for graduate students at UNC-Chapel Hill, which supported collaboration between the Ackland and the North Carolina Museum of Art. In keeping with the goals of the Scholarship, this exhibition aimed to unite objects from both collections in a way that was unique to the two museums.

 

Big Shots: Andy Warhol Polaroids
2 October 2010  2 January 2011

Best known as a painter and filmmaker, Andy Warhol was also a prolific photographer. Bringing together moments of his art, work, and life, and considering them as the intertwined parts of an artistic whole, Big Shots included approximately 250 Polaroids and 70 gelatin silver black-and-white prints taken by Warhol between 1970 and 1987. The exhibition presented a multitude of images Warhol accumulated as part of his creative process against black-and-white snapshots captured during leisure time. Seen together, this critical mass of photos allowed for exceptional glimpses into Warhol’s working methods, as well as his personal perspective on the New York “scene” of the ’70s and ’80s.

Circa 1958: Breaking Ground in American Art
21 September 2008  4 January 2009

1958 was a remarkable year: it was a time of transition and experimentation in American art and culture, and for the United States, a time of unbridled optimism yet one of uncertainty. The country was experiencing an unprecedented rate of economic growth, prosperity, and international leadership following World War II but at the same time, world events offered sobering reminders of the fragility of peace and the prevalence of the Cold War. It was during this time that Khrushchev became Premier of the Soviet Union and President Eisenhower established NASA thus launching the space race. Worldwide concern for the possibility of nuclear annihilation resulted in the establishment of the international peace movement. Across the country, a growing awareness of discrimination and social unrest would bring about the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Rights Movement in the 1960s.

Circa 1958 explored two vastly different trends that emerged in and around 1958, post-painterly abstraction and assemblage. In each case, the artists presented very new and entirely different approaches to art making. Together, these two trends laid the groundwork for much of the American art that came to define the second half of the twentieth century.

 

Hung Liu, American, born in China, born 1948: Peaches, 2002; oil on canvas. Ackland Fund, 2002.7. © 2002 Hung Liu.
François Boucher, Recumbent Female Nude (detail), circa 1742-43; red, white, and black chalk on cream antique laid paper, 26 x 35.2 cm. The Horvitz Collection, Boston.
Andrew Wyeth, American, 1917-2009: Weatherside, 1965; tempera. North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, Promised Gift of Ann and Jim Goodnight, © Andrew Wyeth.
Andy Warhol, American, 1928-1987; Bianca Jagger, 1979; Polacolor Type 108, 4 1/4 x 3 3/8 in. (10.8 x 8.57 cm); Gift of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, 2008.24.13
Kenneth Noland, American, 1924-2010; That, 1958-59; oil on canvas, 83 x 83 x 1 3/4 in. (210.82 x 210.82 x 4.45 cm); Collection of David Mirvish, Toronto, L2008.53. Art © Kenneth Noland/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

5 Female Finalists from “The Outwin: American Portraiture Today”

By Audrey Shore

The Outwin: American Portraiture Today spans cultures, generations, and backgrounds. It is an incredible forum for artists to present their work, and an amazing opportunity for the public to experience the breadth of portraiture. The Outwin offers a unique glimpse into the minds of artists and provides a space for those artists to articulate their vision, perspective, and process.


I make a lot of changes. I don’t know where I’m going; I don’t have a final image in my head, but rather a broad idea, and a feeling I’m after, a kind of intensity.  I start a painting, waiting for it to look back at me. Then the painting tells me where to go. I usually get into trouble, take a wrong turn at some point and a lot happens, both bad and good, as I struggle out of the mess.

Anne Harris


The choice of camera has a large impact on both the process of making the photograph and on the final look of the image, which shapes the meaning of the work. The camera demands focused attention from both myself and from the sitter.

Claire Beckett


I use color and pattern in my paintings to evoke emotion, to tell stories of daily life, and to draw the viewer into an intimate world.

Lucy Fradkin


I am fascinated in how my young daughter is a blend of emerging maturity combined with lingering desire to still be a playful, child.

–  Thu Nguyen


These haints represent an underbelly of collective familial memory, what is lost, unspoken, and mythologized through hyperbolic tales often used to mask painful realities.  Each spirit struggles to find their way in the contemporary southern landscape, calibrating the desire to assimilate into a human form against a parallel continuum of past and future.  It is in this in-between space that fantasy and reality collapse, and it becomes increasingly unclear where the tangible begins and ends.

Allison Janae Hamilton


Anne Harris, 2013, Invisible (Yellow), oil on linen, Alexandre Gallery, New York City © Anne Harris
Claire Beckett, 2013, April and her daughter Sarah, inkjet print, collection of the artist, courtesy of Carroll and Sons Art Gallery, Boston, Massachusetts © Claire Beckett
Lucy Fradkin, 2014, Arthur Dreams of India, acrylic gouache, collage, pencil, and metallic thread on paper, collection of the artist © Lucy Fradkin
Thu Nguyen, 2014, The Valentine Dress, oil on panel, collection of the artist © Thu Nguyen
Allison Janae Hamilton, 2014, Haints at Swamp II, c-print, collection of the artist © Allison Janae Hamilton

The Love of my (Art) Life: An Ackland Student Guide Story

By: Paige Nehls

When I accidentally came across the Facebook post calling for student guide applications, I was thrilled. I love museums, but I particularly love the Ackland Art Museum. As an Art History major, it has become like a second home to me.

The Ackland is a haven for the intellectually curious and the aesthetically hungry. It’s always free and always welcoming.

I based my entire tour on Princess with a Musical Instrument in the Ancient Gallery, from the New Kingdom period of Egypt. Encapsulating so much of what drew me to art history in the first place, it is the love of my art life.

For one, it is amazing to me every day that here in Chapel Hill we have a relief sculpture that was carved in a workshop for an Egyptian pharaoh millennia before they knew this continent existed. It is incredible that I get to see it and study it, so far from its home, so long after it was created. I want to share that awe with my community! I think that everyone should be able to connect with art the way that my fellow student guides and I have been able to do.

When I speak like that about art, I usually get the “Yes, because you’re an art history major” eye roll, and yes, I am. However, the appreciation of and connection to art transcends academic categories. One of the most rewarding aspects of being a student guide has been connecting with other students of other ages, majors, and backgrounds. It’s given me an enlightening perspective on art and how it resonates with different people.

Some of the best advice I got while working on my tour came from my colleague and friend, Christina Barta, who is a first-year Computer Science major. For a while, I was stuck on how to present the objects in my tour. One day, Christina just looked up at me and said, “Change the order.” That seems so simple, and comical in retrospect, but I was so involved in my own tour I couldn’t see the forest for the trees

Growing up in ballet, I was trained to look for lines, for beauty, and for aesthetically pleasing forms. The lines that the artists use to create shapes in their works are very telling of the culture that produced both the artist and the work. When I was creating my tour, I viewed each object as a snapshot of the past. We can take one object and figure out what was going on at the time, why, who produced it, what they valued, and the list goes on and on.

The tours that my fellow student guides and I have created are fun, interesting, and rewarding. It is rare to watch people absolutely fall in love with what they are doing, but you see it at the Ackland every day. These tours are a learning process for everyone involved, including the guides, and that is what makes it such a remarkable experience.

Paige is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill seeking a degree in Art History. Her interests include, “Egypt. Just Egypt. Only Ever Egypt”.


Relief of a Princess with a Musical Instruments (Sistrum), c. 1360-1350 BCE: White sandstone, 6 1/4 x 4 1/2 x 1 1/4 in. (15.9 x 11.4 x 3.2 cm). Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ackland Fund. 67.29.4.

Making Connections: “Becoming a Woman” and the Permanent Collection

By Carolyn Allmendinger, Director of Academic Programs, Ackland Art Museum

There are only a few weeks left to see Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment.  If you haven’t seen it yet, make sure to spend some time exploring between now and its last day at the Ackland – April 8.

If you have seen the exhibition, have you noticed the connections between the paintings, sculptures, and drawings in the exhibition and the Ackland’s own eighteenth-century European works? There are five on view in Gallery 15: European Art of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Some of the resonances strike you even at first glance, while others require a little more careful attention to see.

Antoine Vestier’s Allegory of the Arts, for example, one of the first works of art you see when you enter Becoming a Woman, has an interesting counterpart in Jean-Louis le Barbier le Jeune’s portrait of Madame de Villeneuve-Flayosc. While Vestier’s painting is an allegorical image, it is also a portrait of the artist’s daughter Nicole, who, like her father, was an artist. Madame de Villeneuve-Flayosc was an amateur draftswoman and her portraitist made a point of emphasizing her artistic abilities. In each of these paintings, we see a lovely young woman dressed in beautiful clothing that was probably not ideal for working in chalk or ink. (Note how close the tip of Madame de Villeneuve-Flayosc’s pen comes to her gleaming satin skirt!). Both women sit at gilded, ornate tables with antique sculptures and leather-bound books placed on them, and both have a supply of blue drawing paper handy.

How do you think these paintings of female artists compare with representations of male artists you may have seen? During your next visit, consider the examples on view in the Ackland: Charles-Antoine Coypel’s Self-Portrait in Becoming a Woman, and Joseph-Siffred Duplessis’ Portrait of an Artist (hanging beside the portrait of Madame de Villeneuve Flayosc).

In Becoming a Woman, look for Augustin Pajou’s delicate drawing of Venus Disarming Cupid and then find Jacopo Amigoni’s painting of the same subject in the Ackland’s Gallery 15. Think about the choices the artists made and how those choices affect the resulting depictions. Both Pajou and Amigoni successfully captured the playful interaction between mother and child – neither of these two Cupids seems to be in real trouble for all the matchmaking mischief they have caused. But consider the different formats of the two images – one horizontal, one vertical.

What is the effect of the additional space surrounding Pajou’s Venus and Cupid versus the more compressed composition of Amigoni’s? What about Amigoni’s decision to include three of Cupid’s companions and Pajou’s to focus on the two central characters? What might it have been like for eighteenth-century viewers to hold Pajou’s drawing in their hands and contemplate the fine, elegant chalk strokes that make up the scene? How might the larger size of Amigoni’s painting and the pink, coral, and blue tones alter that viewing experience? (We know that the original owner of Amigoni’s Venus Disarming Cupid was the famous castrato opera singer known as Farinelli).

What additional points of comparison can you find between the Ackland’s eighteenth-century art and the works in Becoming a Woman?

 

Painting with Dust

By: Franny Brock, Ackland Graduate Intern 2017-18, Ackland Art Museum

Léon-Pascal de Glain, French, 1715-1775, Young Woman in a Blue Dress with Muff, 1745

As a specialist of eighteenth-century French art, my job has been particularly exciting and rewarding this semester because of the Ackland’s new exhibition, Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment: French Art from the Horvitz Collection. This installation epitomizes so many of my research interests, including the work of women artists, collectors and collecting, drawing techniques, amateurism, and display of works on paper. Some of my favorite pieces in the exhibition—the ones that I keep returning to over and over again—are the pastel portraits. The velvety texture and rich colors of these works drew me in immediately, but their contradictory classification and contested status in the eighteenth century keeps me coming back for more.

From a curatorial perspective, chalk pastel is fascinating because it occupies a place somewhere between painting and drawing. In the eighteenth century, pastels were considered a form of painting, comparable to oil. In 1701, Joseph Vivien (1657–1734) was the first artist accepted to the French Académie as a “painter in pastel.” The vibrant colors, high degree of finish, and size of pastels make them similar to paintings. However, works in pastel are done on paper and are extremely fragile. Like drawings, pastels are light sensitive and need to be stored in the dark most of the time (which makes it even more thrilling that we have eight on view at the Ackland right now). Anyone who has worked with chalk pastels knows that keeping the medium adhered to the paper is also a problem. Pastel is crumbly and dusty; it wants to lift off its support, especially when moved or jostled. Many strategies for fixing pastel to paper were invented in the eighteenth century.

Chalk pastel is made of powdered pigment and a binder, such as gum arabic, then formed into sticks. These pastel sticks can be applied directly to paper as a dry medium or mixed with water and applied with a brush. Pastel became popular in eighteenth-century France, especially for portraiture, because of its ability to mimic the tones and texture of skin, hair, and clothing. Gault de Saint-Germain’s Portrait of a Boy demonstrates how different colors of pastel were blended or “stumped” (sometimes also called “sweetened”) to create the luminous skin of the young man’s face. The powdery surface of this work reflects diffuse light off the facets of tiny particles of pigment, creating a sense of white light and a velvety texture.

Anna Gault De Saint-Germain, Polish, c. 1760-1832, Portrait of a Boy, 1788

Although both men and women artists used pastel, the medium came to be considered “feminine” because it relied on surface attributes such as color and shading, rather than the more masculine-associated line and structure, to define subject matter. Social critics also linked pastel to women’s cosmetics because of its physical similarity to powered rouge. While there was wide popular appeal for pastels in eighteenth-century France, this comparison emphasized the perceived artificiality and delicacy of the medium in the minds of its critics.

The pastel works in Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment show a range of techniques, including blending and the use of mixed media, and because they were never varnished, these pieces have retained their original brilliance. I encourage you to take the opportunity to view these pastels before they return to the dark to rest.

 

Drawing at the Ackland

By: Kelly Chandrapal, Learning Resources Coordinator, Ackland Art Museum

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, French, 1732-1806: “Standing Young Woman Seen from Behind.” Black chalk on off-white antique laid paper. 380 x 258 mm. The Horvitz Collection.

One of my favorite things about working at the Ackland Art Museum is helping UNC students and faculty look at drawings from our collection. Works on paper are highly sensitive to light and cannot be on view as often as paintings or sculpture. When classes or individuals want to use works on paper to further their research or studies, we can take drawings and prints out from storage and put them on display in our Print Study room for the duration of the class period. It’s pretty remarkable to view works up close, unobstructed by glass. The students are captivated, observing the variations in mark-making and the distinct characteristics of each artist’s hand. After seeing drawings from the Ackland’s collection, I am inspired to make a resolution to “draw more” this year.

Drawing is a way of seeing and thinking. It’s using your body and mind together to understand the world around you and visually articulate what you see. While we are often eager to take a photograph to capture our experiences, a camera comes between you and what you are looking at, distancing you from the art itself. Drawing requires you to slow down, look carefully, and connect with the work of art.

Here are some tips I recommend for drawing at the Ackland:

Get your materials ready. Bring your own sketchbook or borrow supplies from our front desk. To protect the works of art on display, pencils (regular or colored) and paper are the only art materials allowed in the galleries.

Select a work of art that interests you. What do you find interesting about it? Maybe it’s the texture of a carved sculpture, the movement expressed through a figure’s body, or an intricate pattern. Draw the part of the work excites you most.

Get comfortable. Grab a gallery stool from our coat room, find a bench or sit on the floor. Find a spot away from foot traffic, where you can focus.

Look closely at the work of art. Drawing from observation is more about looking than drawing. The lines you draw should be more about what your eyes are telling you, rather than how you think the drawing should look. Look back and forth frequently between the artwork and your paper and let your hand follow where your eyes take you. If you like a challenge, take it one step further, and draw without looking at your paper, creating what’s called a blind contour drawing.

Make lots of marks. Drawings are interesting because you get to see the lines, even the ones that are not exactly right. When starting out, make light, quick marks, applying little pressure to the paper. Practice making shorter lines and more lines. As you go along, experiment with different lengths, thicknesses, and speeds of mark-making.

Have confidence! Everyone can draw – it’s all about having the confidence to do it. Remember, you are not trying to make a perfect copy, instead you are trying to capture what you see. Relax, have fun, and enjoy the experience.

Learn from the masters. Come see drawings on view in our current exhibition Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment: French Art from the Horvitz Collection. Featuring a variety of media – red chalk, graphite, washes, ink – the drawings highlight the artistic style of some of the most prominent artists of the period.

Other ways to draw at the Ackland:

  • Borrow a Close-Looking Kit from our front desk to take with you as you wander. Use the family-friendly materials and Art Cards to explore the art in different ways.
  • Come for a Drawing in the Galleries session, happening on the second Saturday of every month. Sessions are free and all skill levels are welcome.

The Ackland Museum Store’s new home

By: Alice Southwick

We completed our move from East Franklin Street into the Ackland Art Museum and opened on October 6, 2017 in conjunction with the opening of the exhibition Flash of Light, Fog of War, which was being installed in the galleries as we were setting up the Store. It was an exciting and energetic time, with all of us working under a deadline—lots of carpentry, painting, and ladders—and with a common purpose. We think the Store turned out great and, needless to say, so did Flash of Light, Fog of War!

Being located inside the Museum has proven to be a wonderful experience. We’ve always been a part of the Museum, but had not experienced being around all the teaching activities that are constantly going on and that has been amazing. We also have the opportunity to look at the exhibitions much more closely, connect with our Museum colleagues on a regular basis, and gain a better understanding of each of the many parts that work together to make the Ackland such a special place.

We are thrilled that many of you have come to see us in our new location. Your positive comments about the Store mean so much to us. Our time spent on Franklin Street was amazing and we miss our neighbors and look forward to visits from the regulars who used to stop by the store for greeting cards, a quick look, and even a brief chat. That said, we’re delighted for all the new connections we will make here in the Museum and hope we will see you soon in our new, sparkly, little Store. We cannot wait for you to see our wonderful greeting card “wall” and hope you love it as much as we do!  The best part:  You get to see amazing art at the Museum too!

 

The Study Gallery

By: Elizabeth Manekin

As is true in lots of encyclopedic collections, much of the artwork in the Ackland was never intended to be in a museum. Made for religious rituals, mass markets, burial sites, and banquet tables, it lives in harmony alongside works that were intended for gallery walls. We collect and combine the gamut as “Art.”

Sammy Baloji Culture Congolese, African, “Kalamata, chief of the Luba against watercolor by Dardenne” 2011:
medium archival digital photograph on Hahnemuhle Paper. 2016.6.

Perhaps my favorite part of my job is teaching and learning about these diverse objects from multiple perspectives. Teaching in the galleries, I regularly engage in lively discussion with students and faculty; in the Study Gallery, I get to put some of those conversations on the wall.

The artwork in the Study Gallery aligns with course objectives from all corners of the University, and its organization often eschews the traditional display categories of country or chronology. I work closely with faculty to determine which works of art will enhance their course and its learning goals. The art might illuminate a cultural context, or push students to consider a familiar concept from a new perspective. Works of art may develop new competencies, of empathy or visual literacy for example, or might be a platform for further research, reflection, and creative response. With two eight-week installations per semester, there’s always something new to see and consider on view.

This semester is no exception. In our first rotation, for example, graduate students in the Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program visited the Ackland’s Study Gallery on multiple occasions as they investigated experiential learning. Students examined the different experiences depicted in the artwork and reflected upon their own experiences of looking at and talking about art. As students looked repeatedly, they evaluate the concepts that define experiential learning and how they relate to their work in the classroom.

Also on view were works for the Art History courses “Introduction to Architecture” and “Art and Sports,” which presented multiple representations of building and athletes, respectively. Students in a Renaissance history course used works of art on view in the Study Gallery to learn to read visual and material primary sources. A Women’s and Gender Studies class analyzed photography and thought

about issues of identity. Graduate students in musicology explored the influence of Russian refugees on global artistic production in the wake of the Revolution in 1917. This last course coincided with a graduate-organized conference, and their scholarship was accessible in the gallery.

Egon Schiele, Austrian, “Church and Houses at Modling, near Vienna,” 1918: black chalk and gouache. 58.1.238

Anyone of these Study Gallery installations is engaging on its own, but I also love the challenge of figuring out the ways in which these separate courses are in dialogue with one another. This semester, the theme of how we form identities, as individuals and as nations, is an undercurrent. In what ways do both the buildings around us and the sports teams we root for shape our sense of self in relation to the world outside? How do we draw the boundaries of “otherness”? What are the roots of our faith in reason and logic? What role do we play in shaping our own identities? These are big, difficult questions, helped along by the experience of looking closely at what is sometimes a small and specific thing. For all visitors, the Study Gallery is a window into the classrooms at Carolina and an invitation to ask these questions on your own.

I invite you to come to the Ackland’s second-floor Study Gallery. Look closely and think big. Pick up a syllabus. Discuss issues with a friend. The Study Gallery is for everyone!

Out of the Basement

By: Lauren Turner, Assistant Curator for the Collection

For those of us who work in the arts in the Triangle, October doesn’t just portend the changing seasons, Halloween, and pumpkin-spiced everything; it also means it’s time to celebrate the medium of photography through the annually occurring, month-long Click! Photography Festival. (Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it.)

Photographer: Peter Krogh; pictured, left to right: Bryce Lankard, Stephen Fletcher, Lori Vrba, Ray Pfeiffer, Frank Konhaus

In an effort to focus some of the month’s activities to appeal to out-of-town guests, this year’s Click! organizers decided to introduce a new facet of their programming – Click! 120, an intensive five-day celebration of all things photography, with highlights including presentations by three keynote speakers, bus tours to local collections, and a day-long portfolio review by assorted curators, gallerists, and arts editors. Unfortunately, this year the Ackland was unable to offer a tour of its collection to the participants since Click! 120 overlapped with both the opening of our new exhibition Flash of Light, For of War: Japanese Military Prints, 1894-1905, the unveiling of our new Store’s location, and some no-big-deal, really minor news announced that weekend. (Kidding! We’re still giddy!).

Even with the flurry of activity at the Ackland and on campus, I was fortunate enough to serve as one of the portfolio reviewers on the final day of Click! 120, during which I met with eleven photographers for a full half-hour each at the 21c Museum Hotel in downtown Durham. During those meetings, we discussed their aspirations for their current bodies of work, and where possible, I offered suggestions and encouragement in helping them to achieve those goals.

The morning began with Daniel Kariko, an assistant professor of photography at East Carolina University; his project Suburban Symbiosis: Insectum Domesticus utilizes microscope photography and an intensive post-production process to create stunningly colored portraits of household insects. He was followed by Carol Erb, a Californian photographer who showed me her series-in-progress Reckoning, in which fantastic scenes of natural disasters serve “as a metaphor for a civilization in crisis.” Chris Ogden then shared with me selections from Stones Echo, a series he has created by rappelling into stone quarries; the beautiful images that he has captured read more as elegant abstract color studies than traditional landscape compositions. Susan Patrice was also turning to landscape in her most recent work, but she was doing so in a way to explore a mid-career turnaround in practice and the ways in which exploring a familiar wooded path through a tondo format have had on this transition. Charlotte artist Amy Herman brought apartofme and it wasn’t important until it was, two series connected by her captivating inclusion and consideration of vintage family photographs within her own practice. Tori Gagne rounded out the morning with her elegantly captured Moonlit Dance series of horses in motion.

photographer: Peter Krogh

After a break for lunch, I met Susan Keiser who uses mid-century dollhouse figures with water and ice to create unsettlingly quiet scenes that evoke suburban tragedies in the two bodies of work Barbaric Glass and Flooded. Greg Banks, currently an instructor at Appalachian State University, delighted me with his combination of Appalachian folklore, family history, and a tintype aesthetic in An Explanation of Sympathetic Magic. Donna Hixson impressed me with her witty eye for depicting roadside Americana, as seen especially in series like Unseen Florida and Stars and Stripes. Chapel Hill artist Heather Evans Smith introduced me to her meditation on the tensions between mother and child in Seen Not Heard, a thoughtful body of work that some local viewers may have encountered this year at the Horace Williams House. I finished the day with R.J. Kern who will have selections from his series The Unchosen Ones appear in November’s National Geographic; his respectful portraits of participants in county fair animal competitions complicate conceptions of winning and losing.

While the day was a whirlwind introduction to a broad array of creativity and working styles, each of the photographers I met exemplified professionalism and an evident love for the medium. It is a truly wonderful event that the Click! organizers brought together, and it’s still only mid-October! I encourage you to check their website for more upcoming programs.

Nashville’s Belmont Mansion: Birthplace of William Ackland and a Legacy of Art Appreciation

By: Brian Fletcher

“Who was William Ackland?”

“So is all this his private collection?”

“Is he really buried in there?”

In my five years as an Ackland Art Museum security officer, I often answer these and many other inquiries about William Hayes Ackland, the man whose unique vision and generous endowment made his eponymous museum—and resting place—at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill a reality.

On a recent visit to Nashville, Tennessee, I visited Belmont Mansion, William Ackland’s birthplace, and childhood home, and found not only some of the likely inspiration for the museum’s benefactor whose epitaph reads, ‘He wanted the people of his native South to know and love the fine arts,’ but some interesting parallels between the Ackland Art Museum and the home of its namesake.

Nashville’s Belmont Mansion, located on the Belmont University campus, was the birthplace and childhood home of Ackland Art Museum namesake William Hayes Ackland.

The Ackland surname was originally spelled ‘Acklen’—William twice modified it. Belmont Mansion was also spelled differently then: Belle Monte. The summer home and—by the time of William’s birth—full-time residence of his parents, Joseph (1816-1863) and Adelicia Acklen (1817-1887), the opulent antebellum mansion is—like the Ackland Art Museum—situated on a university campus, present-day Belmont University.

Work began on Belle Monte shortly after Joseph and Adelicia married on May 8, 1849. Joseph was Adelicia’s second husband; her first, Issac Franklin, died in 1847 leaving her a $900,000 estate—worth nearly $25 million in 2017 dollars, making her the wealthiest woman in mid-nineteenth century America. The day prior to their lavish wedding—with a who’s who of notable attendees including former President and Carolina alum James K. Polk—she insisted Joseph sign a contract allowing her to retain control all of her assets after their marriage.

Situated on the top of a hill near what is now Nashville’s trendy Hillsboro Village district, Belle Monte was completed in 1853, just two years before William’s birth. While Adelicia’s great wealth came from cotton, Belle Monte was no plantation; aside from a limited agricultural presence mainly to support the estate’s needs, Belle Monte was designed in the style of an Italian villa, a showplace designed for entertainment and relaxation. Joseph even built a neoclassical art museum on the grounds in 1857. The museum—which also included guest quarters and a bowling alley—was razed a decade later as Adelicia felt it obstructed her view from the mansion, but no doubt had a great influence on the young William.

Formal dining room at Belmont Mansion.

My March 15, 2017, visit to Belmont Mansion coincided with Adelicia’s 200th birthday, and the mansion marked the occasion by waiving their admission fee and offering cake and refreshments in the beautiful grand salon—an 1859 addition to the home. Comparable in size to Ackland’s Yager Gallery, the grand salon played host to Adelicia’s many parties and social functions which, according to a docent leading the tour, sometimes included upwards of 2,000 guests. An organ in the center of the space bears testament to Adelicia’s musical inclinations—said to have a beautiful voice, she would famously entertain her guests with song, perhaps a precursor to Nashville becoming ‘Music City, U.S.A.’ and Belmont University counting many notable musicians, including Brad Paisley, Pam Tillis, Stephen Curtis Chapman, and Sarah Cannon—better known as Minnie Pearl—among its alumni.

An elegant staircase leads from the grand salon to the upstairs bedrooms—including the one William and his older brother Joseph Hayes Acklen (1850-1938) shared—and a study room where William and his siblings were educated by private tutors. Above the bedrooms is the mansion’s cupola. The narrow stairwell leading to the cupola is undergoing restoration that, unfortunately, rendered it off-limits during my visit, though an interpretive sign noted that William wrote about witnessing the 1864 Battle of Nashville from this lofty vantage point. Despite their wealth, the Acklens—and by extension, Belle Monte—weren’t spared the challenges of the Civil War era. Joseph died in 1863 of malaria while managing Adelicia’s vast plantation holdings in Louisiana, and the next year, just prior to the Battle of Nashville, Union forces occupied Belle Monte until the war’s end in 1865—destroying many of the estate’s other buildings and wreaking havoc on its ornately landscaped grounds.

Bedroom of William Hayes Ackland and his older brother, Joseph. William’s bed is at the right.

At the end of the war, Adelicia took young William and the rest of her children on a year-long ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe, during which she purchased a treasure trove of furnishings, silverware, fine china, and—of course—works of art. While growing up in such elegant surroundings with an art museum in his backyard certainly must have been a catalyst for young William’s lifelong love of the arts, the Grand Tour is credited with sealing the deal—Ackland would return to Europe annually for the rest of his life. Among the special displays marking Adelicia’s landmark birthday was a picture of a ten-year-old William taken in Paris while on tour. Sleeping Children, a marble statue by Rome-based American sculptor William Henry Rinehart (1825-1874), was one of five marble works obtained during the family’s yearlong European visit—four of which are still located in the mansion. The Rinehart piece, located on your left as you enter Belmont’s front entrance, is vaguely reminiscent of the marble sarcophagus that originally topped William Ackland’s tomb here at the museum—though very different stylistically. Engraved on the piece are the names Laura and Corinne—Adelicia and Joseph’s twin daughters who died at age two in 1855 from scarlet fever. The piece reminded Adelicia so much of her twin girls that she had Rinehart add their names as a memorial to them.

Belmont Mansion and the Ackland Art Museum—William Ackland’s birthplace and resting place—sit 514 miles apart from each other, though the same highway—Interstate 40—passes within a few miles of both, just one of many threads that connect Ackland’s early life with his legacy as perpetuated through the Ackland Art Museum. Seeing Ackland’s beginnings help me to better understand the man and the importance of that legacy to him—and to us all.

All photos were taken by the author, 2017.