More than 100 Works of Folk Art Gifted to Mississippi Museum of Art by Artists Claudia DeMonte and Ed McGowin

. December 4, 2018

Artists Claudia DeMonte and Ed McGowin donated more than 100 works by self-taught artists to the Mississippi Museum of Art. They were subsequently honored at the Museum’s annual Rembrandt Society Dinner held on November 1. The works represent part of their personal collection of sculptures, paintings, and assemblages.

The objects from the DeMonte/McGowin collection add to a growing body of self-taught Southern artists represented in the Museum’s permanent collection. Of Mississippi-born artists, works by O.W. “Pappy” Kitchens, Mary T. Smith, James “Son Ford” Thomas, and Luster Willis are now strongly represented, offering varied richness and depth to the arts of 20th-century Mississippi. Other notable artists from across the South include Howard Finster, Lonnie Holley, James Harold Jennings, and Mose Tolliver.

“Particularly exciting is the gift of a pristine watercolor, Untitled (Dog with Red Tongue) by Bill Traylor, an artist not previously represented in the Museum’s collection,” said Museum Curator of American Art Elizabeth Abston. “Traylor’s striking paintings are currently featured in a major retrospective at the Smithsonian American Art Museum that explores his world of memories, tale-telling, and direct observation in the segregated South. The dog in ‘Untitled’ is an image Traylor returned to regularly, its proportions likening it more to a mythical beast than household pet, though Traylor seemed to enjoy merging those two worlds.”

Ten James “Son Ford” Thomas sculptures add depth to the representation of the Mississippi bluesman and artist’s work already in the Museum’s collection. Thomas’ ever-evolving art practice and interest in death and the dreamworld provide unique avenues to access the life he lived in rural Mississippi. Further, the gifts of Mary T. Smith’s work now bring the Museum’s holdings up to nine works, many of which would have been arranged proudly outside of her home in Hazlehurst in one of the South’s most notable examples of rural artistic environments known as yard shows or yardscapes.

“Over a period of 25 years, my husband and I drove thousands of miles, around the backroads of the United States—particularly in the American South—in our desire to meet folk artists. We did not start out to collect … rather as artists, we were interested in the creative process as it relates to self-taught artists. With few exceptions, we met most of the artists whose work we acquired, and we feel that this collection contains extraordinary examples of the expression of human spirit that these artists embodied. This group of works is not a survey of folk art but the result of a personal quest to understand art-making,” said DeMonte.

“Claudia and Ed have been friends of the Mississippi Museum of Art since its 1978 opening. The deeply personal nature of this collection makes it especially meaningful for us, and it ties us in perpetuity to this Mississippi-born artist and his brilliant artist wife. We were delighted to celebrate them and toast their latest act of generosity at our annual Rembrandt Society Dinner earlier this month. We are deeply grateful,” said Museum Director Betsy Bradley.

Claudia DeMonte is a mixed media artist renowned for her analysis of contemporary women’s roles. She was born and raised in the Astoria neighborhood of New York City. Her work has been exhibited in more than 100 one-person shows and 500 group shows, nationally and internationally, including exhibitions at the Corcoran Museum, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Tucson Museum, Flint Institute of Art, Museum of the Southwest, and Mississippi Museum of Art. For 33 years, DeMonte has served on the faculty of the University of Maryland, where she was named Distinguished Scholar Teacher and Professor Emerita. In 2006, She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the College of Santa Fe.

Ed McGowin is best known for his 1970-71 work “Name Change,” for which he changed his name legally 12 times over an 18-month period and created distinct bodies of work under those personas. He has continued this practice over the last five decades. McGowin has taught at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and Design, The University of Southern Mississippi, and the State University of New York. His work has been exhibited in more than 70 solo shows at venues in the U.S. and abroad, including the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris and The National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY), The Guggenheim Museum (New York, NY), and the Lowe Museum of Art (Miami, FL), among others.

DeMonte and McGowin are married and live in New York City and Kent, CT.

More information:

William “Bill” Traylor, Untitled (Black Dog with Red Tongue), ca. 1939-40. Opaque watercolor and pencil on cardboard, 16 x 13.75 in.

Category: Fine Art

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