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Toledo Museum of Art spotlights acquisitions from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in exhibition early next year

TOLEDO, Ohio – A landmark exhibition organized by the Toledo Museum of Art will present the Museum’s recent acquisitions of major works by African American artists from the southern United States. Living Legacies: Art of the African American South features 24 works, from large-scale assemblages and mixed media sculptures to paintings, textiles and works on paper acquired from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation over the course of two years. Artists represented are Leroy Almon, Thornton Dial, Thornton Dial, Jr., Richard Dial, Lonnie Holley, Ronald Lockett, Joe Minter, John B. Murray, Royal Robertson, Georgia Speller, Henry Speller, Luster Willis and several generations of women quiltmakers, including Louisiana Bendolph, Mary Elizabeth Kennedy, Jessie T. Pettway, Lola Pettway, Lucy T. Pettway, Martha Pettway, Rita Mae Pettway and Florine Smith, as well as Estelle Witherspoon, one of the founders of the Freedom Quilting Bee. In recent years, these artists’ innovative practices have received overdue recognition throughout institutional spaces and in the larger cultural discourse. This exhibition will celebrate their crucial contributions to a broader understanding of American art as well as their enduring legacies.


Living Legacies: Art of the African American South, which is curated by Jessica S. Hong, TMA’s curator of modern and contemporary art, will be on view in the museum’s New Media Gallery from Jan. 15 through May 1, 2022.

“Many of the artists in Living Legacies have cultural roots in creative expressions of the African diaspora and enslaved peoples in the Americas, passed down through familial and communal traditions, and utilize everyday material with symbolic potential,” said Hong. “They illuminate the complex histories of the lands in which they are situated, and critically examine ever-present themes from familial legacies to issues of inequity, while also revealing the expansive possibilities of their creative practices.”


Relationships between materials, practices, artists and experiences will be explored throughout the exhibition. Highlights will include a range of dynamic quilts by Louisiana Bendolph, Mary Elizabeth Kennedy, Lucy T. Pettway and other artists from around Alabama, including Boykin, Alabama. Boykin is also known as Gee’s Bend, historically named after a settler who established a cotton plantation in the region. Several artists emphasize the potency of the domestic sphere, from learning or bestowing familial cultural traditions to reflecting on the influence of family structures, as with Richard Dial’s The Comfort of the First Born (1988).


Many in the exhibition were active during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s and express their journey having to contend with injustice and discrimination through their artistic and cultural production. Lonnie Holley’s assemblage of found materials Cutting Up Old Film (Don't Edit the Wrong Thing Out) (1984) comments on the construction of history, calling into question whose voices and perspectives become part of or are “cut out” of the official record. Thornton Dial’s large-scale sculpture Trip to the Mountaintop (2004) borrows the words from a prophetic and rousing speech made by Martin Luther King Jr. the day before he was assassinated in 1968.


The exhibition will also include a reading area with resources and materials related to the artists and themes present throughout the exhibition, providing further context and an opportunity for visitors to respond and have space for contemplation.


Living Legacies: Art of the African American South is supported by presenting sponsors Susan and Tom Palmer and season sponsor ProMedica, with additional support from the Ohio Arts Council and TMA Ambassadors.