Present to Past: Threads of Continuity at Delaware Art Museum

Françoise Barnes, Misumena Ellipsoides, quilted cotton blend,
silk, and polyester batting, 1988, Delaware Art Museum

I was at Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington last Thursday. I've had a personal rule when visiting a museum that I have to look at the older art first.

The whole drive up from Baltimore was through a punishing driving rain. Maybe some brashly colorful art would shake that chill out of my bones. So breaking with tradition my first stop was the contemporary gallery. I saw that Contemporary Curator Margaret Winslow had rearranged the gallery since my last visit, which makes everything look fresh. 

What caught my eye was the fabric wall hanging above. Though I'm known as a landscape painter, my first years as an artist I worked abstractly and still have a fondness for bold abstracted forms. This ambitious piece by Francoise Barnes was visually rich and elegant. She overlapped a network of bright colored shapes on a background of subtle grayed-down forms. It formed a very real though quite shallow space. Like a landscape painter she was echoing things I do in my own paintings.

This is as it has to be. All powerful art reaches us because it is speaking in a visual language that's been crafted by the long generations of artists who've gone before. 

Heading downstairs at the museum to view19th century works I stopped at one of the Museum's John Frederick Kensett landscapes. Kennett was a huge inspiration to me when I made my first foray into landscape painting back when I was getting my MFA at Indiana University.

John Frederick Kennett, Rocky Headland with Seacoast, oil on
canvas, undated, Delaware Art Museum.

With its carefully overlapped planes of foreground, middle ground and background this Kensett felt like the Barnes wall hanging I'd just been looking at. And like the contemporary piece, Kensett's oil purposefully played off intense warm colors in his rocks against tinted grays in the background. 

Edward Hopper, Summertime, oil on canvas, 1943, Delaware Art 

Delaware's Curator of American Art, Heather Coyle had told me she'd just changed the arrangement and wall color in her early 20th century galleries. They looked great. Above is the new placement of the Museum's famous Edward Hopper oil Summertime.

What follows are a few other favorites from this visit.

Charles Burchfield, March, 1923-28, watercolor,
Delaware Art Museum

One of the Museum's Charles Burchfield paintings ranks in my book as one of this artist's strangest paintings. With a creature-like uprooted tree seeming to menace from behind the youthful figure surveying a stormy landscape it's mysterious. As Heather Coyle notes in her wall label, the psychological power of Burchfield's work was an influence on the Magic Realist painters of the next generation like Andrew Wyeth.

Edward Lorper Sr., Taking Down Clothes (Windy Day)
oil, 1939, Delaware Art Museum

A real surprise for me were the lovely oils by the Wilmington artist Edward Lorper Sr. They have a terrific sense of rhythmic pattern playing across their surfaces.

Edward Lorper Sr., Pigeon Coops, oil on canvas,
1952, Delaware Art Museum

Like the Lorper oils above William Zurich's painting below shares that deft sense of moving the eye across the surface.

William Zorach,  Moonlight (Swimmer). oil
on canvas, 1916, Delaware Art Museum

Finally I always have to tip my hat to the fabulous ceramic sculpture by Richard Cleaver. Richard was one of my students years ago in one of the first drawing classes I taught at MICA
in Baltimore. He's created a deliciously haunted and dreamy mood
with the piece. A talented artist.

Richard Cleaver, Queen's Closet, ceramic, wood 
and mixed media, 1995, Delaware Art Museum


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