| Wilmington StarNews
Back in Wilmington’s Cameron Art Museum on Thursday, it was easy to forget that until very recently it had been closed to the public for six months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Walking through the museum’s sprawling new exhibition “She Persists,” which features work by more than 50 women artists, it feels like nothing if not a triumphant return.
Timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote, “She Persists” features an engrossing array of work from the museum’s permanent collection. The exhibit displays pieces by 53 artists world renowned (Mary Cassat), local (Elizabeth Darrow, Fritzi Huber) and, in some cases, both (Minnie Evans).
Museum director Anne Brennan said the CAM has been “very purposely collecting work by women artists” for many years now, so in some ways “She Persists” shows off the many fruits of those labors. It’s a feminist exhibit just by virtue of existing, with material throughout explaining how the works fit into the various stage of feminism and feminist theory.
PHOTOS: Cameron Art Museum opens with new exhibits
One of the first pieces you seen when you walk in is Huber’s gorgeous dyed silk piece “The Tale of Gengi,” based on the 11th century novel by Murasaki Shikibu (Some experts think it was the first novel written by a women.) “Gengi” hangs from the gallery’s ceiling, and locals may recognize the work from its time hanging at the old Myrtle Grove Library, which was torn down to make way for the new one near Pine Valley.
My favorite piece might be an extraordinary carved gourd by Michele Tejuola Turner. Worlds more intricate than the polished gourds often seen hanging in yards around the South, it tells the story of “Grandma Nettie,” whose exploits at her church near Charlotte are shown in exquisite, colorful detail.
Former Wilmington artist Dixon Stetler — who once heroically paddled a raft made of flip-flops across the Cape Fear River — comes back home with two pieces, one old and one new. “Womb Buggy,” from 2019 affixes a woven fabric “womb” to an old, rusted buggy frame. Her notorious “Annual,” a chandelier of sorts made from clear plastic specula — a speculum is a medical instrument used by gynecologists to examine a woman’s cervix — hangs nearby.
Two large pieces by late North Carolina artist Maud Gatewood, “Rockingham Roadside” and “Berenty Towards Sunset,” view our state’s natural beauty through an otherworldly filter that allows us to see what might be familiar scenes through new eyes.
One of the most striking pieces in the show was created by artist whose name has been lost to time. The large, gorgeous quilt, with simple yet mandala-like patterns, was created around 1850 by a woman who was a slave. The quilt fits right in with Mary Bowron’s spooky “Silent Witness Series,” 14 heads made from pit-fired clay, soot, pigment and beeswax.
Work on display by two of the most popular artists in the museum’s collection, American impressionist Mary Cassatt and untrained Wilmington “outsider artist” Minnie Evans, have been shown many times before but are always worth revisiting. More seldom-seen are the paintings by late Wilmington artist Elisabeth Chant (1865-1947), a native of England who had an outsized influence on the Port City’s art scene from the ’20s through the ’40s. (One of her students was the iconic Wilmington artist Claude Howell.) Her “Watermelons on the Dock” from 1925 gives a glimpse of old-time Wilmington, while “Ancient Ko Su Coat,” also from 1925, showcases a colorful garment like the ones Chant was said to favor.
This just scratches the surface of this exhibit, which really requires multiple viewings to fully take in.
One note: “She Persists” is one of the few exhibits at the CAM where the windows below the museum’s iconic “pyramids” on its roof are fully open, allowing natural sunlight to flow into the gallery like it rarely has in the past since UV light can damage the artwork. It’s fitting in this case, however, with such a stunning and impressive collection of talent, to let the sun shine in.
Also at the CAM
In addition to “She Persists,” the Cameron opened two more new exhibits last month.
Both eerie and impressive, “The Face of Lincoln” is a bronze cast of the 16th president’s face made at Carolina Bronze in Seagrove. The bronze cast was made using a 1956 terra cotta sculpture by Robert Merrell Gage, who did numerous sculptures of Abraham Lincoln. Gage’s sculpture was inspired by plaster face mask of Lincoln made in 1860 by Chicago sculptor Leonard Volk. So, it’s basically like you’re gazing upon what Lincoln’s face actually looked like in real life, circa 1860. Oscar-winning 1955 short film “The Face of Lincoln,” in which Gage appears, screens in gallery where the bronze mask is displayed.
In “The Lived-In Body: Celebrating Women Over 65, Paintings by Virginia Wright Frierson,” the well-known Wilmington artist delivers a moving, moody collection of work featuring the nude bodies of women of a certain age. They are unflinching but also beautiful, a clear-eyed and loving look at the female body in its sixth decade.
Both “The Face of Lincoln” and “The Lived-In Body” are up until further notice.
More: Exhibits to honor Gillespie, a colorful artist with ties to Wilmington
Through March, you can also see the sculptures of late artist Dorothy Gillespie in the “Dorothy Gillespie Centennial Celebration.” Gillespie wasn’t from Wilmington, but she’s a bit of celebrity here, with her distinctive work on permanent display at Thalian Hall, UNCW and the CFCC Wilson Center. Her whimsical, delicate metal sculptures evoke nature — from waterfalls to plant life — so it’s appropriate that the CAM has placed them outside, hung on the museum’s outer walls and even seeming to spring from the trees and bushes next to the CAM Cafe’s courtyard.
More: Cameron Art Museum exhibit a who’s who of modern artists
And last but certainly not least, “The Eye Learns: Modernist Prints from the Louis Belden Collection” is still on display. It went up about a year ago, and features prints by South Carolina native and living art world legend Jasper Johns; surrealist Man Ray; abstract painting icon Robert Motherwell; and many more Modern Art legends, including Alexander Calder, Robert Rauschenberg and even Pablo Picasso.
Contact John Staton at 910-343-2343 or [email protected]
Want to go?
What: “She Persists,” an exhibition of work by more than 50 female artists. Plus, four other exhibits.
When: Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, open till 9 p.m. on Thursdays. “She Persists” remains on view through March of 2021.
Where: The Cameron Art Museum, 3201 S. 17th St., Wilmington
Info: Admission is $10; $8 for seniors, active military and students; and free for members and those 19 and under.
Details: 910-395-5999 or CameronArtMuseum.com