Works by American Artists
The permanent collection of the Huntsville Museum of Art is comprised of over 3,000 objects, primarily focused on 19th and 20th century American art with an emphasis on art from the Southeast. African, Asian, and European art, from cultures influential on American art, is the Museum’s secondary collecting focus.
The collection holds some 400 works on paper by American artists such as James McNeill Whistler, Reginald Marsh, John Sloan, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and Andy Warhol. These works have allowed the Museum to provide its community first-hand access to original works of art by leading 20th century masters.
Works by Regional Artists
Regional artists are well represented in the Museum’s permanent collection. American artists with Alabama ties include Richmond Burton, William Christenberry, Gerald Hayes, Nall Hollis, David Parrish and Stephen Rolfe Powell. The Museum’s commitment to building a regionally significant collection is also affirmed by the growth of its Southern photography collection, which now includes over 200 prints, and by regular acquisitions from the recurring Red Clay Survey and Encounters exhibitions, featuring work by regional contemporary artists.
In 2008, the Museum acquired the prestigious Sellars Collection of Art by American Women, a landmark gathering of over 400 paintings, drawings and sculptures that heralds the achievements of more than 250 American women artists primarily active between 1850 and 1940. While the names of many may now be unfamiliar, in their time these artists exhibited alongside their male counterparts, received accolades and awards, and pioneered the way for those who would follow. Today, art historians are rediscovering their contributions and reestablishing their rightful place in the expanding narrative of American art history.
Collectors Alan and Louise Sellars of Macon, Georgia, were perceptive when they chose to collect the work of these overlooked artists, and particularly insightful in deliberately not limiting their efforts to highlight one particular style or locale. While the Collection emphasizes the strong American preference for realism, works range from early efforts in the naïve tradition through sophisticated accomplishments reflecting the various influences of modernism— from impressionism through early abstraction. Equally varied in terms of subject matter, the Collection encompasses accomplished florals and still-lifes, elegant portraits, engaging genre scenes, and landscapes both intimate and panoramic, reflecting many different regions of the country and world. A small sub-collection of bronzes rounds out this unique gathering of art, which the Huntsville Museum of Art now has the great privilege of preserving and exhibiting for all to discover and enjoy.
Featuring selections from the museum’s collection of exquisite silver creations designed and fabricated in Italy by the luxury jewelry firm of Buccellati, and generously donated by Betty Grisham of Huntsville is the outstanding permanent collection, Buccellati: A Silver Menagerie. Due to Mrs. Grisham’s remarkable vision and support, the Huntsville Museum of Art can claim to have the world’s largest public collection of these unique works of art.
The present house of Buccellati was founded in 1919 in Milan, Italy and originated what is known as the Buccellati style, which combines Renaissance period techniques, luxury materials and the extensive use of texture engraving to create objects of great beauty. This distinctive style won favor with a discriminating international clientele, including the Vatican as well as the Royal Houses of Italy, Spain, Belgium, England and Egypt.
Gianmaria Buccellati carries on the family tradition today as an internationally renowned silversmith. He has dedicated his life to creating extraordinary objects that exemplify fine Italian craftsmanship. His signature silver animals replicate creates from earth, sea and sky in a highly realistic manner. Buccellati invented a new method of working in silver to capture fine detail like feathers, hair, or different types of skin, known as “lavorazione a pelo” or “hair-like workmanship”. An animal reproduced “a pelo” is the result of welding countless silver filaments of varying length and thickness to give the actual appearance of the natural coat. It is a demanding method that requires the highest level of skill and an absolute mastery of soldering techniques.
Animals with the hair-like workmanship were originally produced in 800 silver, which is stronger, but less pure than 925 sterling due to its higher alloy content. This was because the intense heat of soldiering used in the creation of the animals would have melted the very thin filaments if they were sterling, but the Buccellati artisans were able to invent a new technique of soldiering that allowed them to work within the heat tolerance of sterling silver. As a result, all animals produced since 1995 have been created in 925 sterling.
Highlights of the Museum’s collection include a stunning four-foot tall flamingo and delightful reclining giraffe, inspired by a trip to Africa; a spectacular marine centerpiece consisting of Mediterranean sea creatures arranged around a natural amethyst geode; and a new family of deer commissioned by the museum to honor Betty Grisham, the remarkable woman who conceived the world-class collection.
American Studio Glass from the Collection
Mary Ann “Toots” Zynsky is one of many American artists who have become enchanted with the expressive potential of glass in the past three decades- an era in which Dale Chihuly, William Morris, Paul Stankard, Dante Marioni, Sonja Blomdahl and others have transformed their passion for this unique material into an international phenomenon. While glass containers and vessels have been made for more than 2,000 years, today’s artists take traditional forms, like bowls and vases to a high level of individual expression. They create sculpture of intricate shape, texture and subject matter, working glass with varied techniques and combining it with an array of other media in surprisingly new and beautiful ways.
In the nineteenth century, master glass-makers like Louis Comfort Tiffany ran large factories employing scores of workers to craft original designs into finished pieces. In the 1960s, The American Studio Glass movement transformed glass from craft into fine art. Harvey Littleton and others created small-scale furnaces that gave artists the new ability to work hot glass individually in their studios. Littleton went on to found the first glass program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1962. From there, a wave of artists emerged who spread the aesthetic possibilities of glass worldwide. Marvin Lipofsky, the first to earn an MFA in glass at the University of Wisconsin, founded the Nation’s second glass program at the University of California, Berkeley. Another MFA graduate, Dale Chihuly went on to establish the glass department at the Rhode Island School of Design, and co-founded the famed and highly influential Pilchuck Glass School near Seattle. Today, more than 40 years later, Chihuly is a household name, and he and many others have achieved national and worldwide recognition for their contributions to the art of American Studio Glass.
Three galleries in the Davidson Wing provide the Museum a showcase for its outstanding holding of American Studio Glass. The collection was initiated in 1995 with the purchase of Cam Langley’s Three Flower Vase, and has grown to nearly four-dozen pieces. Several of the movement’s icons are represented in the collection, as well as nationally and regionally significant voices. The Collection encompasses a wide range of different techniques, including blowing, flame working, casting, and carving. Also included are works combining glass with other materials such as wood, rope, paint, gold and silver leaf, and manipulated imagery. The Museum is pleased to highlight the creativity and variety of the American Studio Glass movement with this exhibit.
The Ponchin Legacy: Two Generations of Masterful Art
This exhibit from the Museum’s permanent collection pays homage to the creative work of two generations of acclaimed artists from the south of France- Antoine Ponchin (1872-1933) and his son, Jos. Henri Ponchin (1897-1981). All of the paintings were generously donated to the Museum by Renee Ponchin Barnes, daughter of Jos. Herni and a lifelong resident of North Alabama.
The Ponchins were unusual among artists- a father and son who were equally well trained and critically respected in their native France. Antoine’s father, Louis Ponchin (1828-1899) was also an artist, best known as a genre painter who exhibited extensively at the Paris Salon and painted many religious murals in cathedrals throughout southern France.
Antoine Ponchin went on to become a landscapist, achieving the title Hors-Concours, a distinguished mark of achievement in the French artistic community. He received his training at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Marseille, and achieved the honored position of official artist of the French navy. In 1926, both he and his son were selected by the French Ministry of Fine Arts to decorate the palace of the Governor General of Indochina. While in Hanoi, Antoine founded the Ecole des Beaux-Arts for Vietnamese and French artists. Upon his return to Paris, Antoine reconnected with the artistic community there, and became acquainted with Pablo Picasso. Mrs. Barnes remembers Picasso visiting her grandfather at his studio across from the Basilica of Sacre Coeur, and addressing him as “Mon cher Ponchin.”
Jos. Henri Ponchin followed in his father’s footsteps and became a landscape painter. He trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and graduated first in his class. Most of his career was spent in Provence painting in and around his family’s ancestral home in the village of Martigues. Like his father, he received many prizes and honors during his long career.
Highlights of the exhibition include a dramatic rendering of Les Baux in the South of France, a view of the entrance to the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, scenes of quaint cities and towns in Provence, and paintings inspired by travels to exotic locales in North Africa.