Purchase Story

Folk and Folks: The Henry D. Green Symposium

A Book Review

The Henry D. Green Symposium at the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, has taken place biennially in February since 2000. Most of the talks have been published in illustrated softbound journals. 

Dale L. Couch, the curator of decorative arts at the museum, has been responsible for the symposium and journals since 2009.

Folk and Folks: Variations on the Vernacular was the subject of the eighth Henry D. Green Symposium, held February 4-6, 2016. Fifteen papers are published in the journal. It was published this past summer.
The first article, presented by Robert Hicklin Jr., is “The Story of Southern, in Pictures,” a warm and delightful confession of Hicklin’s love affair with southern paintings. He discusses his career as an art dealer and his back-road and around-the-world travels in search for good southern paintings.

Laura Pass Barry, the Juli Grainger Curator of Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture at Colonial Williamsburg, presents
the challenges of attributing and identifying the sitters in a portrait of what was thought to be a mother and son of the Cox-Greer family by an unnamed Georgia portrait painter. She discusses the criteria used in dating the portrait, including costumes, hairstyle, and even how the bows are tied in the child’s bonnet. The mother’s dress and hairstyle suggest that it was painted 1830-40. Other costume analysis narrows it down to 1837-40. It was thought by the family that the sitters were a mother and son of the Greer family, but Barry believes the portrait is actually of Mentoria Bushrod Cox Harrison and her daughter Eliza Mead Harrison. She does not name an artist.

Folk and Folks: Variations on the Vernacular
Edited by Dale L. Couch
Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia, 2018, 216 pages, softbound,
$30 plus S/H from the Georgia Museum of Art,
(www.georgiamuseum.org/learn/publications) or (706) 542-0450.

Beth Fowkes Tobin, professor of English and women’s studies at the University of Georgia, explains why John Abbot, an early Georgia naturalist and prolific artist, is so little known today. The Englishman arrived in Georgia in 1776 and supported himself as a natural history artist. His greatest accomplishment was The Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia, published in London in 1797, the first natural history book published by an artist living in the United States. The book preceded Audubon by three decades and Alexander Wilson by a decade. But Abbot’s name does not appear on the title page; its editor, Sir James Edward Smith, the president of London’s Linnaean Society, was in charge of naming and classifying the butterflies that Abbot submitted in drawings. Smith was given credit in the book, but Abbot was not. Abbot was obsessed with insects from an early age. He was a talented artist who drew the Georgia birds and insects and also did watercolors. While Abbot’s drawings and paintings of birds may fall short of Audubon’s, his drawings of insects hold their own. Tobin quotes natural history artists who point out that Abbot drew beetles with microscopic perfection and that he never lost the transparency of a butterfly’s wings with an excess of detail.

There are several articles on ceramics. Suzanne Findlen Hood, curator of glass and ceramics at Colonial Williamsburg, writes about a stoneware wedding jug or flower vase. Kelly Sharp, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, contributed an essay called “The Creolized Kitchen: Interpreting the Life of a Catawba Indian-Made Pan from Urban Charleston, 1800-1830.” Joseph D. Litts, an independent scholar, writes about the sources for the design of a stoneware pitcher with an Albany slip glaze, attributed to the Bell family in north Georgia. He compares it to masked pitcher forms made at Meissen, Worcester, and Spode.

As for furniture, Elizabeth A. Davison published her early research on Johannes Spitler, a furniture decorator, known for six-board chests made in the Shenandoah Valley 1790-1809. She has now expanded her research into a book that is due out in 2020. She discusses and demonstrates with plenty of color illustrations how the decorative elements were dictated by the religion of the client. Davison also explains how the Rhenish culture lingered in the Massanutten, Virginia, area, after most of the Mennonite community left for Ohio, and that Spitler continued to paint flamboyantly with his creative genius for more worldly customers and adjusted his designs according to the faith beliefs and traditions of others.

Sumpter Priddy III writes about the decorations found on painted dower chests made in rural Walton County, Georgia, between 1820 and 1845. He attributes them to Ulster Scots, settlers in the area, some of whom had German ancestors. He focuses on one dower chest in particular and explores the symbolism of the images on the chest. He explains how they are different from dower chest decorations from the Pennsylvania region and what they say about the settlers of that region. The decorations relied more upon Biblical and Calvinist themes, Masonic symbolism, and the flora found in the Georgia landscape.

Dale L. Couch teamed up with Joseph D. Litts to report on research into what is referred to as the long-block group of Georgia furniture, case pieces that have two long wooden blocks parallel to the front, with the two shorter edges perpendicular to the front of case pieces. The turned feet of various Continental and mannerist sequences are then doweled through this board and occasionally into the interior of the case. Most of this furniture exhibits Germanic traits, and most pieces were found in northeastern Georgia along the corridor between Walhalla, South Carolina, and Athens, Georgia. This furniture’s distinguishing features are the long blocks supporting turned feet, sometimes reinforced with pegging, a sign of the Continental tradition of overbuilding a piece of furniture, and Germanic paint schemes. They maintain that this type of furniture was made in several shops and can be distinguished by its different styles of turned feet—usually an inverted trumpet surmounted by a slightly suppressed ball or an inverted cone with a pronounced bead or ring near the broader end. Two candidates emerge as possible makers, Bluford Dyer and D.M. Clower, although the authors do not rule out later immigrants from Europe as the makers of some pieces. Overall they emphasize that this furniture style “demonstrates the complexity—and even cosmopolitanism—of the vernacular furni-ture from South Carolina, Georgia, and beyond” and that the region’s furniture is not as “homogeneous” as once thought because of later immigration to the area by artisans, which renders study of the region’s furniture far more complex that realized previously.

To read all 15 presentations, order the book. For more information about the Henry D. Green symposium, go to (http://georgiamuseum.org/calendar/event/keynote-henry-d.-green-symposium-of-the-decorative-arts1/2018/02/01).

Originally published in the December 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest

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