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New Book To Commemorate 50th Anniversary of Reynolda House Museum of American Art

Winston-Salem, NC—Reynolda House Museum of American Art will mark its 50th anniversary with the publication of Reynolda: Her Muses, Her Stories. Part chronicle, part memoir, the volume takes readers behind the scenes of the founding and development of the art museum often referred to today as “The Frick of the South.” The book’s September publication is also timed to coincide with the centennial of Reynolda Estate, once the residence of R. J. and Katharine Reynolds, and now the museum’s superb setting. The 264-page book, with more than 150 images, will be published by Lucia|Marquand and distributed by University of North Carolina Press.  
 
The book will debut at two events to be held the weekend of the museum’s anniversary, September 8 and 9, 2017, and will be available for purchase in the Museum Store.
 
Following a foreword by Allison Perkins, director of Reynolda House Museum of American Art, the book begins with a masterful synthesis of the 100-year Reynolda narrative, from beloved family home to cultural institution, written by David Park Curry, former senior curator of Decorative Arts, American Painting and Sculpture at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Curry deftly weaves stories and images associated with Reynolda’s history by examining them through 20th century American cultural lenses of time, landscape, home, social context, history and memory.
 
The core of Reynolda:  Her Muses, Her Stories is the engaging backstories gathered by author Martha R. Severens, illuminating the myriad ways that signature works of art came into the museum’s esteemed collection. Severens offers insights about the artists, donors, and most importantly, the museum’s founder Barbara Babcock Millhouse, granddaughter of R. J. and Katharine Reynolds. Millhouse is presented as sleuth, scholar, student, clairvoyant, and even gambler when she set the course for acquiring American art at a time when it was not in favor. The book contains 80 personal stories, each of which is afforded a generous two-page layout with a full-page color image.
 
One story recounts how Millhouse set her sights on a Stuart Davis work. “One day I mentioned to an art dealer that my favorite painting by Stuart Davis was For Internal Use Only, 1945. A couple of weeks later he called and told me that it was available. After it had been hanging at the museum for a number of years, our archivist asked me to look at a box containing some papers that Mother had saved. When I did, I was astounded to see a full-page color reproduction of For Internal Use Only, which she had torn out of a February 1947 issue of Life magazine. Mother died when I was only nineteen years old, and it was unlikely that I would have known about her interest in Stuart Davis. I began to wonder whether I was my own agent or in some spooky way fulfilling someone else’s ambitions.” 
 
Among the paintings Millhouse initially purchased for the museum was Sierra Nevada by Albert Bierstadt, 1871–1873. The following excerpt illustrates one of the many ways that Millhouse continued her scholarship of works long after their acquisition. 
 
“Recognizing that contemporary critics had commented on the resemblance between Bierstadt’s western mountains and the Alps, Millhouse decided to see for herself. She went to Denver, met a guide, and by sunset had climbed to 9,000 feet, unaware of the potential impact of high altitude on humans. She recalls how the next day she ‘found a slope where I sat in a field of wildflowers, looking across a deep gorge with peaks rising high above and clouds of all formations floating past. It was as though I was sitting in a theater with an intense drama enacted in front of me. I knew at once that Bierstadt expressed in his paintings exactly what I felt. If his peaks looked too sharp and too high and his light too theatrical, that is the way they were in reality. I doubt whether Bierstadt’s critics had actually seen the Rockies or the Sierra Nevada. It was dangerous to travel across the country in Bierstadt’s day, as his accounts reveal, and quite risky even in ours, as I was to discover. When we finally arrived at our destination, my horse had nearly stumbled off a cliff, we had no food left, and only because we came across some hot springs were we able to bathe.’”
 
Bierstadt’s Sierra Nevada was one of nine paintings acquired for Reynolda House Museum of American Art for its opening on September 8, 1967. Today, the collection numbers nearly 200 works, dating from 1763 to present day, including such modern and contemporary masters as Chuck Close, Arthur Dove, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence and Grant Wood. Time has proven again and again the wisdom of Reynolda’s singular concentration on American art and its choices. As Curry notes in his essay, “The collection is proof positive that it is easier to set fashion than to follow it.” 
 
Funding for Reynolda: Her Muses, Her Stories was provided by Sharon and Dolph von Arx, whose generous matching gift inspired Laura Hearn, Ruthlee and Glenn Orr, and Janie and J.D. Wilson to support this publication.
 
About David Park Curry
Dr. David Park Curry, formerly the senior curator of Decorative Arts, American Painting & Sculpture at the Baltimore Museum of Art, specializes in American and European art of the 19th and early 20th centuries. He explores cultural crossroads where art, decoration, and commerce intersect. In 2014 he helped celebrate the Baltimore Museum of Art’s 100th anniversary with a reinstallation of its renovated Scott Wing. Curry holds a PhD in the history of art from Yale University. He lectures widely in the United States and England, and has written monographs on James McNeill Whistler and Childe Hassam as well as studies on Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent.  He also has written about American Impressionism and Realism, folk art, Victorian architecture, world fairs, and period framing. In 2010 he joined colleagues at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to publish the museum’s extensive collection of American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts—many of the pieces acquired during his fifteen-year tenure as curator of American arts. 
 
About Martha R. Severens
Martha R. Severens is a graduate of Wells College in Aurora, New York, and holds a master’s degree from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. She has served as curator at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, South Carolina; the Portland Museum of Art in Maine; and the Greenville County Museum of Art in South Carolina. She is the author of Andrew Wyeth: America’s Painter; Greenville County Museum of Art: The Southern Collection; The Charleston Renaissance; From New York to Nebo: The Artistic Journey of Eugene Thomason, and co-author most recently of Scenic Impressions: Southern Interpretations from the Johnson Collection. Severens worked on the electronic cataloguing project for Reynolda House in 2011–2013, researching and writing catalogue entries and artist biographies, which can be accessed via the museum’s website: reynoldahouse.org/collections.
 
About Reynolda House Museum of American Art
Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is recognized as a rare gem among the nation’s cultural institutions. The museum presents an exceptional collection of art by America’s most noted artists in an incomparable setting:  the 1917 country home of Katharine and Richard Joshua (R. J.) Reynolds. Spanning 250 years of painting, prints, sculpture, photography and video art, the collection has been guided with the prescient and unerring eye of Barbara Babcock Millhouse, granddaughter of Katharine and R. J. Reynolds. Highlights include important works by Albert Bierstadt, William Merritt Chase, Frederic Edwin Church, Chuck Close, Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, Martin Johnson Heade, Lee Krasner, Georgia O’Keeffe, Nam June Paik, Martin Puryear, Gilbert Stuart and Grant Wood. In addition to its collection of fine art, Reynolda House holds decorative arts and estate archive collections and mounts exhibitions from all periods in the 2005 Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing. Established in 1967 and now affiliated with Wake Forest University, the museum will mark two anniversaries in 2017—the 50th of its founding and the 100th of the completion of its estate—with major exhibitions and events. The complete Reynolda experience includes Reynolda Gardens, composed of formal gardens, walking trails and wetlands, and Reynolda Village, now an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants in many of the estate’s original buildings. For more information, please visit reynoldahouse.org.
 
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