MEMPHIS.- The Dixon is proud to host Ancestry and Innovation: African-American Art from the American Folk Art Museum. Featuring the inspired creations of visionary African-American folk artists, the show is drawn entirely from the impressive holdings of the American Folk Art Museum in New York. Since 1961, this institution has been one of the nation's leading resources for the preservation, study, collection, and enjoyment of America's great folk art traditions.
Among the exceptional works in the show are nine full-sized quilts, folk art's most appealing and accessible form. The vivid Diamond Strip Quilt pieced and sewn by Lucinda Toomer (1888-1983) at her Macon, Georgia, home when she was eighty-seven years old was the first quilt to enter the permanent collection of the American Folk Art Museum. It is now one of the icons of twentieth-century outsider art. Ancestry and Innovation: African-American Art from the American Folk Art Museum also features the famous Pig Pen Quilt by Pecolia Warner (1901-1983), an artist whose remarkable design sensibility has clear affinities with African textiles she had ever seen.
The popular Clementine Hunter (1886-1988), and expressionist painter of simple southern traditions, who lived nearly all of her more than one hundred years on the Melrose Plantation in Natchitoches, Louisiana, is well represented. As is David Butler (1898-1997) and his delightful sculptural forms, which he improvised form painted tin, wood, and wire in his home in Patterson, Louisiana.
Possibly the most extraordinary objects in the show are the huge painted constructions by Thorton Dial, Sr. (born 1928) and his son, Thorton Dial, Jr. (born 1953), of Bessemer, Alabama. The senior Dial's The Man Rode Past His Barn to Another New Day and the younger Dial's only slightly smaller King of Africa aptly demonstrate folk art's capacity for heroic scale and subject matter.
As the title of the exhibition suggests, the forty works in Ancestry and Innovation: African-American Art from the American Folk Art Museum, nearly all by southern artists, are examined through the lens of shared traditions, persistent patterns of existence, common materials, and cultural legacies handed down from one generation to the next. But within any given tradition, there is room for stunning reinvention. The search for unity and variety in southern twentieth-century African-American vernacular forms is at the very heart of Ancestry and Innovation: African-American Art from the American Folk Art Museum, making it not just a visually compelling presentation but an important study of southern folk art as well.