Monday, October 26, 2015

The Development of the Weatherspoon Art Museum: Bridging Art and Education

Elizabeth McIver Weatherspoon
Elizabeth "Lizzie" McIver enrolled at the State Normal and Industrial School at its opening in October 1892. She was the younger sister of the school's founding president Charles Duncan McIver. In fact, one of the drivers that led McIver to advocate for State Normal was the lack of reasonably priced institutions in North Carolina for Lizzie to continue her education after completing studies at Peace Institute in Raleigh (where her brother worked prior to the opening of State Normal). After completing a year at State Normal, Lizzie taught in the Greensboro city schools until 1900, when she marries James R. Weatherspoon of Sanford, NC. When her husband died four years after their marriage, however, she returned to Greensboro and teaching.

She served as a supervisor of the first grade classes at the Curry School, the teaching school on the State Normal campus. Mrs. Weatherspoon's abiding love, however, was art. While at Curry, she taught private classes in art. And, in 1906, she officially joined the State Normal faculty as an art instructor, focusing on art education for elementary school teachers. She was also a charter member and the first president of the art division of the North Carolina Education Association.

Mrs. Weatherspoon was also a strong advocate for the establishment of a Department of Art at State Normal. Finally in 1935, she saw that dream come true, and she was named an associate professor in the new department. Four years later, however, on May 25, 1939, Mrs. Weatherspoon passed away at her home on Tate Street after an extended illness.

The year following Mrs. Weatherspoon's death, the art department moved into its new home in the McIver Memorial Building. A small gallery space was opened in the building, and, in 1941, the gallery was officially named the Elizabeth McIver Weatherspoon Gallery.

One of the early exhibits in the Weatherspoon Art Gallery featured 24 lithograph prints showcasing modern English art. Reflecting Mrs. Weatherspoon's interest in art education for elementary school students as well as the art department's emphasis on the gallery as a teaching space, 10 of the 24 lithographs were specifically chosen because they were to appeal to children.

Weatherspoon Art Gallery space in the McIver Building
For the next 15 years, the Weatherspoon Gallery in the McIver Memorial Building featured a wide array of art from around the world. Exhibits included textiles, furniture, paintings, prints, sculptures, ceramics, and more. A particular emphasis was placed on contemporary art as well as the space as a source for the practice and teaching of art. A donation in 1950 of the million-dollar Cone Collection from sisters Etta and Claribel Cone of Baltimore, served as one of the gallery's earliest and most important acquisitions. This donation included six bronzes by Henri Matisse and over 100 works by Matisse, Picasso, and other modern French artists.

McIver Memorial was closed due to numerous building hazards and issues in 1956. But, the new McIver Building opened in 1960 and featured a special wing specifically constructed for the Weatherspoon Gallery.

The Weatherspoon Gallery continued to grow in its new location, collecting new pieces and building a large audience. In fact, when actor Vincent Price visited UNCG in 1977, his first request in the way of sightseeing was the Weatherspoon Art Gallery. In particular, he wanted to see one of the gallery's most valuable pieces, Willem de Kooning's "Woman," which Price declared to be "an asset to any gallery." He reportedly studied the painting for a full 10 minutes as part of his 90 minute behind-the-scenes gallery tour.

Director Ruth Beesch with de Kooning's "Woman"
By the late 1980s, however, the Weatherspoon Art Gallery had far outgrown its space in the McIver Building. In 1989, the Weatherspoon found its new (and current) home -- the Cone Building, named in honor of Anne Wortham Cone (Class of 1935) and her husband, Benjamin Cone, Sr. The $7.5 million building opened at the corner of Spring Garden and Tate Street and provided the Weatherspoon Art Gallery with nearly five times as much space as they had previously had in the McIver Building. Gallery director Ruth K. Beesch declared, "we've gone from rags to riches."

In 2001, the name of the Weatherspoon Art Gallery was changed to the Weatherspoon Art Museum to more adequately reflect its function and mission as the gallery had grown and expanded in size and scope. Today, the Museum continues to maintain a schedule of more than fifteen exhibitions each year as well as full roster of educational activities, publications, and outreach efforts.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Woman's College and the Burnsville School of Fine Arts

On July 21, 1947, the curtains opened on a new venture for the Woman's College - the Burnsville School of Drama. Running for six weeks in the North Carolina mountain town of Burnsville (about 40 miles northwest of Asheville), the school was a partnership between WC and Burnsville Playhouse, Inc., a local non-profit organization that managed ticket sales, marketing, and other details related to engaging the general public. WC faculty staffed the school, offering course credit in topics such as playwriting, play production, and acting. Burnsville locals also offered an old Burnsville High School gymnasium as a site for the theater, which was quickly remodeled to seat 400 guests (eventually renamed the Parkway Playhouse). They also provided housing to students and staff of the school in their private homes.

The view from the Burnsville School of Fine Arts, late 1940s
W. Raymond Taylor, a WC professor of drama who had long advocated for an art colony in western North Carolina, served as the school's director. In its first season, the School of Drama produced ten performances of three popular Broadway shows -- "Claudia," "Blithe Spirit," and "Our Town." Audience members came from across the United States and three foreign countries to see the performances. The school was placed on the approved list of summer stock theatre companies by the New York Times and The New Yorker magazine. Additionally, a $10,000 grant from the Carnegie Foundation was secured in 1948 to support the continued development of the school for the next four years. Seeing the school as "afford[ing] facilities for the training of veterans in the fine arts," the Veterans Administration provided additional support, and military veterans were allowed to attend the school with federal aid using the G.I. Bill.

Over the next four years, the curriculum expanded, and the school adopted a name more inclusive of the courses taught -- the Burnsville School of Fine Arts of the Woman's College. In addition to classes in theater and drama, students could take courses in art, creative writing, dance, education, and music. Men and women were both allowed to take classes, but enrollment in the drama program was strictly limited to fifty students.

In that time of initial development, however, some argued that Taylor's drama background meant that he, as the school's director, emphasized theater over the other parts of the curriculum. Ticket sales for dramatic performances also were lagging behind estimates. As a result, in 1952, leadership of the school was transferred to Gregory Ivy, head of WC's art department. At that time, the school was also recognized as a fully accrediting branch of the college, offering scholarships as well as undergraduate and graduate credit on the same basis as work completed during summer session on the Greensboro campus. Branches of the college library and bookstore were also established in Burnsville.

But these changes did not fully revive the school. In 1954, the school was moved from Burnsville to Beaufort on the North Carolina coast. WC had a marine biology program in Beaufort, and, before the establishment of the Burnsville School, Ivy had briefly led a "summer colony" in Beaufort that focused on "advanced landscape painting." But, the move to the coast wasn't enough to save the program. In 1955, Chancellor Edward Kidder Graham made the decision to terminate WC's connection to the school and the Playhouse.

Exterior of the Parkway Playhouse from the 1950s
For the next thirteen years, the University of Miami (Fla.) operated the playhouse. But in 1966, UNCG returned thanks in large part to a $25,000 appropriation from the North Carolina Legislature that paid for refurbishment of the buildings. Taylor was lured out of retirement to direct the return production, staging "Our Town," which had inaugurated the playhouse in 1947. But, once again, the playhouse ran a deficit and, by the 1980s, the building itself was again in need of massive repairs (including asbestos removal). In the 1990, the university once again terminated its affiliation with the school. The Parkway Playhouse, however, continues operations, producing shows featuring professional, semi-professional, volunteer and student actors.

This post is one in a series focused on the 2015 North Carolina Archives Month theme "Celebrating Archives: North Carolina Arts, Crafts, and Music Traditions." North Carolina Archives Month, celebrated each October, is an annual observance of the agencies and people responsible for maintaining and making available the archival and historical records of our nation, state, communities, and people.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Maud Gatewood: Southern Artist

Maud Gatewood's senior yearbook photograph, 1954
Maud Gatewood was born and raised in Yanceyville, North Carolina. Her mother encouraged her to take drawing classes at Averett College in Danville, Virginia. Her sketchbooks show dozens of drawing of her mother. Mostly, seated and probably drawn while the subject was unaware. Maud spent her youth drawing and sketching and in 1950 (at the tender age of 16), she came to UNCG. In 1954, she graduated from Woman’s College (now UNCG) with a Bachelor of Art in Art. She earned her Master of Arts degree from Ohio State University in 1955. Gatewood then spent the next several years teaching in Alabama, then Texas before earning a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Vienna and Salzburg, Austria from 1962-1963. 1964 marked her return to the state with a position at UNC Charlotte teaching in the Creative Arts Department, where she taught for the next nine years. She was instrumental in developing the Creative Arts Department at UNCC. In 1975 she returned to Averett College, this time as a Professor in the Art Department where she worked for the next 20 years.

Gatewood passed away in 2004 from complications after a stroke. She received many awards and recognitions throughout her life, including first place awards in North Carolina Artists’ annual competitions, a North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship, the Governor’s North Carolina Award in Fine Arts (1984), and the UNCG Alumni Association Distinguished Service Award.  She received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from UNCG in 1999, where she was touted for her “uncommon artistic talents, [her] significant achievements as a daughter of the University, and for [her] dedication to the spirit of public service which [her] alma mater so steadfastly values.”

Gatewood was well known for saying little about her own paintings.  In a 1968 Charlotte News article, she stated, “I’ve got almost nothing to say.  I just paint pictures."  When asked about the subject matter of her art, she said, “What I’m trying to paint are relationships, formal relationships: light and color and forms.  There might be messages, but I think a lot of times painters know less about what their painting says than anybody else.”

Special Collections and University Archives has the Maud Gatewood Collection, which contains professional activities, correspondence, subject files, sketches, and sketchbooks.  Maud drew extensively, capturing the scenes and people around her as well as plotting out future paintings.  The sketches that would become paintings are recognizable by their placement within a sketched square box, like these sketches:
Preliminary drawing for Consuming Cause, c. 1990

Preliminary drawing for Ugly Saturday, c. 1989

An exhibit, Maud Gatewood: Sketches, is currently on display in the Hodges Reading Room of Jackson Library.  This exhibit is a part of the Maud Gatewood Trail, a series of exhibits of Maud Gatewood’s paintings across North Carolina and Virginia.  This Fall, eighteen sites will be mounting exhibits of Gatewood paintings.  More information can be found in this brochure: http://www.uncg.edu/art/documents/events/GatewoodTrail.pdf.

This post is one in a series focused on the 2015 North Carolina Archives Month theme "Celebrating Archives: North Carolina Arts, Crafts, and Music Traditions." North Carolina Archives Month, celebrated each October, is an annual observance of the agencies and people responsible for maintaining and making available the archival and historical records of our nation, state, communities, and people.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Dark Shadows, Deep Closets: A LGBT History Month Special Post

When reflecting upon events that serve as vehicles for social consciousness, a library book display is unlikely to rate as an impactful medium to facilitate and stimulate dialogue relating to controversial topics. Such displays are passive and frequently overlooked. However, a book exhibit installed in Jackson Library, at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, launched the student body into a critical discussion relating to gender, sex, and ethnicity.

In Jackson Library, PRIDE!, the LGBTQ student organization on campus at the time, constructed a book display, featuring queer African American authors and entertainers in honor of Black History Month in February of 2002. The exhibit, titled “Dark Shadows, Deep Closets,” communicated the conflicts faced and achievements earned by LGBTQ individuals in the Black community. The display consisted of books from the library collection that focused on homosexuality and ethnicity, as well as contained photographs of significant queer figures in African American history. The exhibit counts as among the first public initiatives on the UNCG campus exploring the intersectionalities of race, sex, and gender.

The display immediately attracted attention. The library received over a dozen phone calls objecting to the exhibit within the first day. The officers of the Student Government Association were bombarded with so many complaints that there was fear PRIDE!’s funding was in jeopardy. The student newspaper, The Carolinian, devoted extensive coverage to the student body’s reactions to the exhibit and the evolution of the discussion, beginning with race, transferring to money, and ending with politics.

In the first week of the display, campus opinion very much focused on sexuality and race. Interviews in The Carolinian featured the opposing positions, revealing the struggles encountered by LGBTQ individuals in the African American community. A student protesting the display, stating “This is black history month and that’s something to be proud of… And gays ain’t something to be proud of.” A member of PRIDE! From Greensboro College (who is identified as a gay African American male) maintained, “We’re celebrating Black History month by showing people another side of it. I would never say anything derogatory about black American homosexuals…”

As discussion about the display and the role of PRIDE! as an organization continued throughout the month of February and into March, the subject matter transitioned from race and sexuality to that of money. The argument opposing the funding of PRIDE! with student fees has been debated for decades. Several students viewed the conflict brought about by the exhibit as an opportunity to revisit the issue. One student argued that, “relatively few students are concerned with issues relating to sexual orientation until they are brought up by groups like PRIDE!. So to say that we as students should pay for a group supporting an issue we are unconcerned about – I really don’t agree with this.”        

However, some students saw PRIDE! not as a student organization devoted to creating an inclusive campus environment for students of all sexualities and genders, but as a platform for spreading political ideology hiding behind a civil rights-oriented student organization. In a letter to the editor of The Carolinian, the most vocal opponent against PRIDE!, Jason Crawford, argued that “PRIDE uses the homosexual issue as a shield to insulate themselves from critics that might otherwise have something to say about their increasingly radical left-wing agenda.” Crawford maintained that PRIDE!’s support of “anti-war rallies” and establishment of “forums that question our government were initiatives intended to deliberately provoke politically conservative students. He called for the SGA designation of PRIDE! as a non-budgetary organization in order that student organizations be held to a high “standard of accountability. Therefore student groups that receive money from students should make reasonable effort to not offend significant numbers of students.”

In spite of vocal opposition, the story ends with the exhibit remaining in Jackson Library through the month, PRIDE! keeping its funding, and the launching of a much needed discussion relating to sexuality and gender in the campus community. This entire event took place during a time UNCG was introducing several initiatives to make the campus more inclusive for sex and gender diversity, including Safe Zone Ally training for staff and faculty and the inclusion of a statement of nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation in the UNCG policy manual. Perhaps the greatest indication of progress can be viewed in that PRIDE! and University Libraries recreating the display for Black History Month in 2013 without any complaints. Who would think a book display in the library could stir such progress?