The Ogden Museum of Southern Art (OMSA) is relatively new museum, opening its doors in 1999. Its genesis was the donation of 600 works of art by philanthropist Roger Ogden. Today the museum’s collection has grown to 4000 works and is housed in two buildings – the first built in 1989 and the second in 2003. The museum is located in the warehouse district directly across the street from the impressive National World War 2 Museum.
As the name implies, the museum is focused on art representing the South and -through the art – the history and culture of the South. All of the art in the museum is the work of artists from the 14 southern states and Washington D.C.
We toured the permanent collections featuring Southern Landscapes and Southern Regionalism (culture and values). We also viewed the paintings of Benny Williams – a remarkable story (see biography below) of an artist committed to the civil rights movement.
The Aioli Dinner was Rodrigue’s first major painting with people as subjects. He designed the painting using combinations of photographs taken of the Aioli Gourmet Dinner Club, a group that met once a month on the lawn of a different plantation home in and around New Iberia, Louisiana. Traditionally, only men sat at the table, each with their own bottle of wine. The women seen standing in the back row cooked the food, and the young men around the table served dinner. One of the older men made the aioli, a garlic-mayonnaise sauce. Rodrigue’s grandfather, Jean Courrege, sits on the left near the head of the table, and his uncle Emile is the third boy standing from the left, peeking his head in between the others. All of the figures are portraits of people who lived in and around New Iberia. Rodrigue chose the historic Darby House Plantation as the setting for his painting.*
Bo Bartlett is an American realist painter born 1955 In Columbus, Georgia. At 19, he travelled to Florence, Italy to study painting under Ben Long. He went on to apprentice under Nelson Shanks and to study in several American schools, including Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, and University of the Arts, PA. A Certificate in Filmmaking from New York University in 1986 led him to work with Betty Wyeth on a documentary film, titled Snow Hill, about her husband, Andrew Wyeth, who became both mentor and friend to Bartlett. An interesting detall of this masterwork is the Inclusion of a deer tail ln the frame, and deer hair in the paint. Writlng about Young Life in February of 1994, Bartlett says: “I saw my sister’s son In this shirt and cap. I asked him to pose with his girlfriend in front of my father’s truck. As I took the photo, my youngest son Eliot ran into the picture.*
One of ten children, Benny Andrews was born on November 13, 1930, in Plainview, Georgia, a light skinned, blue-eyed, blond haired baby. James Orr (“Mr. Jim”), his paternal grandfather, was the son of a prominent white plantation owner. His paternal grandmother, who was the midwife at his birth, was Jessie Rose Lee Wildcat Tennessee. And, like her, his maternal grandparents, John and Allison Perryman, were mixed race, with black and Native American blood. Hts father, George Andrews, was a self-taught artist, the “Dot Man,” who never lived more than ten miles from Plainview and never left Georgia. In contrast, his mother, Viola Perryman Andrews, loved travel and was an advocate for education who encouraged her children to write and to draw daily. After becoming the first member of his family to graduate from high school, he attended Fort Valley State College supported by a scholarship. He was not allowed to attend the University of Georgia, in nearby Athens, nor enroll in Lamar Dodd’s well-known art classes there, due to the color of his skin. In 1954, after serving as a military policeman in the Korean War, he used the GI Bill to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, studying under Kathleen Blackshear. No longer constrained by the racial laws of the South, he entered an art museum and saw original masterworks for the first time in 1954, an experience that brought tears to his eyes. After graduating in 1958, he moved to New York, where he maintained a studio for the rest of his life. Despite limited connections to the city’s art world, by 1962 he began to exhibit regularly at Bella Fishko’s Forum Gallery. By the late-1960s, influenced by the Civil Rights Movement, and troubled by the social, racial and gender inequities he discovered in the art world, he entered a period of social and cultural activism which was reflected in his art. After he co-founded the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition in 1969, and participated in marches outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, demonstrating against the exclusion of women and artists of color from those institutions, he was often classified as a “protest artist.” From 1970 through 1976, he executed the “Bicentennial Series,” a project devoted to depicting the complex history of African-Americans for the American Bicentennial. After exhibiting that project, he returned to the studio and to his position as a member of the Queens College art faculty. Beginning in 1982, he served as Director of the Visual Arts Program for the National Endowment for the Arts, a position which brought him increased national stature. He resigned in 1984, feeling he had accomplished what he could and anxious to return to his studio. In 1984, he built a studio outside of Athens, Georgia, where Benny was able to work more closely with his Georgia family. He encouraged his father, “The Dot Man,” to expand his art production to include painted canvases. From 1984 until 1996, when George Andrews died, he worked to advance the recognition of his father’s art. In 2001, after living and working in Manhattan for more than forty years, Benny Andrews and Nene Humphrey renovated and moved to a new studio and residential structure in Brooklyn. The primary focus in the studio during his last years was the “Migrant Series,” inspired by his reading of writers such as Flannery O’Connor and Langston Hughes as well as his rediscovery of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Each of the three major components of this project was planned to reflect one aspect of his own mixed heritage-he was of African-American, Scotch-Irish and Cherokee descent – and was to be related to a major migration in American history, beginning with the Dust Bowl migration to California, continuing with the Cherokee “Trail of Tears” migration, and concluding with the Great Migration of African-Americans to the North. In 2006, after repeated visits to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, he decided to add a concluding chapter to his American “Migrants” series, devoted to the mass migration that emerged in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The evolution of the project was suspended when he was diagnosed with the cancer which led to his death, on November 10, 2006.*
We liked the Ogden very much – really interesting art along with some insight into the South through the stories and moments captured in the paintings of these Southern artists. We recommend visiting the museum when you visit the Big Easy.
Be seeing you!
*Adapted from museum curator notes.