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Mississippi Museum of Art Announces Debut of “What Became of Dr. Smith” Featuring New Work by Noah Saterstrom

The Mississippi Museum of Art (MMA) today announced its upcoming presentation of What Became of Dr. Smith, a large-scale, panoramic narrative painting by contemporary artist Noah Saterstrom. The exhibition delves into the life of Saterstrom’s great-grandfather, a traveling optometrist whose struggle with and treatment for mental illness led to his erasure from family history. The exhibition is curated by Megan Hines, Ph.D., and will be on view from April 20 to September 22, 2024.

In 2017, Saterstrom embarked on a years-long search in state, local, and private archives for information about Dr. D.L. Smith. The artist eventually discovered that his great-grandfather spent the final four decades of his life at the Mississippi State Insane Hospital, also known as the Old Asylum, in Jackson, Mississippi, and later in nearby Whitfield. What Became of Dr. Smith expands on Saterstrom’s recent exploration of his Mississippi ancestry and suppressed Southern histories.

The exhibition comprises three sections: Saterstrom’s monumental painting composed of 183 canvases spanning 122 feet; historical artifacts from Dr. Smith’s life, including letters, newspaper clippings, and photographs; and an area dedicated to The Asylum Hill Project, a research consortium committed to uncovering the history of the Old Asylum and memorializing the approximately 7,000 individuals whose remains were recently discovered there. In addition to the exhibition, MMA proudly announces its partnership with the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) in Jackson. This collaboration builds on existing art therapy programs at UMMC and MMA to illuminate art’s transformative power to address mental health issues and intergenerational trauma. To kick off this special exhibition, MMA will host What Became of Dr. Smith Opening Programs on April 20 from 11 AM to 6 PM. It will be a full day of engaging talks and presentations that explore the captivating stories behind Saterstrom’s monumental work.

Betsy Bradley, Laurie Hearin McRee Director of MMA, said, “We first featured Noah’s work during our Picturing Mississippi exhibition in 2017. When I heard him speak about his story during a panel discussion related to the exhibition, I was immediately captivated. Noah’s story is both complex and courageous, and I knew MMA was the ideal venue to showcase this exhibition. I’m also immensely grateful to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History which has been a pivotal resource for Noah’s research efforts.”

“Noah’s exhibition is an excellent example of the arts informing the sciences – especially the bio-medical sciences,” said Ralph Didlake, MD, a former surgeon and UMMC leader who directs the Asylum Hill Project. “The sick and injured come to us in social, cultural, and circumstantial contexts that impact their treatment and their outcome. The better we understand these contexts, the better we can care for our patients. It is through the arts that we can gain this understanding.”
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This exhibition is made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (#MA-251867-OMS-22) and the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue including a double gatefold reproduction of Saterstrom’s painting; images of family photographs, letters, and objects that the artist used as source material; Saterstrom’s chronology of his family history (c. 1890 to present); and personal and historically informed essays on What Became of Dr. Smith.

Dr. Amy Forbes and Dr. Patrick Hopkins provide background on the Old Asylum to contextualize it within the history of mental health treatment in the United States. An interview with Saterstrom conducted by novelist Ann Patchett explores Saterstrom’s process. British painter and writer Timothy Hyman discusses What Became of Dr. Smith in relation to a history of narrative painting since the Renaissance.

To date, Saterstrom has sold over 1,500 paintings related to the story of Dr. Smith through the Artist Support Pledge on Instagram. The catalogue will serve as documentation of the exhibition as well as the culmination of years of research informing this body of work.

About the Artist
Raised in Mississippi and based in Nashville, Noah Saterstrom received a BFA from the University of Mississippi and an MFA from Glasgow School of Art, Scotland. His paintings and drawings are in public and private collections worldwide. They have recently been exhibited at Carol Robinson Gallery in New Orleans, Louisiana; Fischer Galleries in Ridgeland, Mississippi; and Julia Martin Gallery in Nashville, Tennessee, among other venues in North Carolina, New York, Washington, and Arizona. Saterstrom has held residencies at HRH King Charles III’s Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, Scotland; Morris and Spottiswood in Glasgow, Scotland; Virginia Center for Creative Arts in Amherst, Virginia; and Exploded View Microcinema in Tucson, Arizona. Saterstrom was formerly a regular contributor to Nashville Arts Magazine. His painting Maeve (2019) is the cover art of Ann Patchett’s book The Dutch House (Harper Collins, 2019). Another work, Road to Shubuta (2016) was included in Mississippi Museum of Art’s 2017 exhibition Picturing Mississippi (1817–2017): Land of Plenty, Pain, and Promise and later acquired by the Museum. Throughout the pandemic, Saterstrom participated in the Artist Support Pledge on Instagram, generating funds for fellow artists while developing a global following of collectors and fans of his work.

About the University of Mississippi Medical Center
As the state’s only academic medical center, the University of Mississippi Medical Center seeks to improve the health of Mississippi’s population and eliminate health disparities through education, research, and patient care.

UMMC encompasses six health science schools of medicine, nursing, health related professions, dentistry, graduate studies, and population health. The Medical Center includes the state’s only Level I trauma center, only children’s hospital, only organ and bone marrow transplant program, and the only Telehealth Center of Excellence, one of two in the nation.
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About the Asylum Hill Project
The formation of the Asylum Hill Project was a response to a 2012 discovery on the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus. A construction worker encountered multiple unexpected burials in the last remaining undeveloped area of campus.

The Asylum Hill Research Consortium (AHRC), a group of scholars and advisors, helped craft a long-term solution to the cemetery challenge: assembling an archaeological crew to carefully excavate the area. In late 2022, exhumations of individuals began and will likely continue for at least another six years.
The AHRC also collaborates on important historical research about a largely unexamined subject related to mental health care in the state.

About the Mississippi Museum of Art
Established in 1911, the Mississippi Museum of Art (MMA) is dedicated to connecting Mississippi to the world and the power of art to the power of community. The Museum’s permanent collection includes paintings, photography, multimedia works, and sculpture by Mississippi, American, and international artists. The largest art museum in the state, the Mississippi Museum of Art offers a vibrant roster of exhibitions, public programs, artistic and community partnerships, educational initiatives, and opportunities for exchange year-round. Programming is developed inclusively with community involvement to ensure that a diversity of voices and perspectives are represented. Located at 380 South Lamar Street in downtown Jackson, the Museum is committed to honesty, equity, and inclusion. The Mississippi Museum of Art and its programs are sponsored in part by the City of Jackson and Visit Jackson. Support is also provided in part by funding from the Mississippi Arts Commission, a state agency, and in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

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Noah Saterstrom (American, b. 1974), What Became of Dr. Smith (detail), 2023. Oil on canvas, 6 by 122 feet. Courtesy the artist.