Rural scenes, regional art coming to High Museum in 2017

The tobacco farmer is as weathered and wrinkled as the bright leaf that he handles. The young girl is untouched by the sun — as smooth and pale as the inside of a pea pod.

The scene is captured in a classic Thomas Hart Benton painting, “The Tobacco Sorters,” which is among 200 works of art coming to the High Museum next spring in an exhibit called “Cross Country: The Power of Place in American Art, 1915-1950.” The show will be at the High Feb. 12-May 7, 2017.

Intended to demonstrate the influence of geographic regions on the growth of American art, the exhibit includes paintings, sculpture, photographs and murals by such artists as Georgia O’Keeffe, Grant Wood, Andrew Wyeth, Ansel Adams, Jacob Lawrence, Gordon Parks and others.

It will incorporate more than 70 works from the High's permanent collection and build upon an exhibition of 67 artworks organized by the Brandywine Museum of Art titled "Rural Modern: American Art Beyond the City." The Brandywine exhibition is on view in Chadds Ford, Pa., through Jan. 22, 2017.

The exhibition will be organized according to the region depicted in the artworks. Each section will incorporate photography and works by self-taught artists that emphasize the interplay between these artists and their urban counterparts.

Rural life (and rural artists) affected the development of American modernism, though as Stephanie Heydt, the High’s curator of American art, points out, “rural,” in the New York-centric art world, often meant anywhere not on the island of Manhattan.

Self-taught artists, from Grandma Moses to Bill Traylor, fascinated trained artists in this period, and one can see the impact of one group on the other, said Katherine Jentleson, curator of folk and self-taught art. The art “canon” began accepting outsider art, including those working in photography and other media.

“There was a great broadening of the concept of the American arts,” she said. “We are thrilled that we get to show the audience how that happened, through the objects we’ve chosen — to show what it was about self-taught artists that was so fascinating (to trained artists).”

A centerpiece of the exhibit is a mural titled "Opening Day at Talladega College," one of the six murals by Hale Woodruff that Talladega College commissioned in 1938 for its Savery Library. The High partnered with Talladega College to conserve the murals for a nationwide tour, which launched with the High's 2012 exhibition "Rising Up: Hale Woodruff's Murals at Talladega College."

All are currently being warehoused by the High.

The exhibition also features artwork loaned from institutions across the country, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Dallas Museum of Art. Also featured are artworks from Georgia museums including the Booth Western Art Museum, the Georgia Museum of Art and Clark Atlanta University Galleries, among others.

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