Style Court

Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes 2006-2016


Art Works

[Stoneware vase by Walter B. Stephen, 1931. Asheville Art Museum.]

Thanks to recent exhibitions at various U.S. museums, younger audiences have been introduced to the work of 20th-century Southern potter Walter B. Stephen. Self-taught and active, in one form or another, from about 1904 to 1961, Stephen is known for evoking regional landscapes with luminous, colorful surfaces and cameo decoration (designs in relief, inspired by iconic Wedgwood).

[Pisgah Forest and Nonconnah pottery by Walter B. Stephen via McKissick Museum.]

In addition to English ceramics and his own natural environment, Asian pottery was another source of inspiration.

[Nonconnah Pottery, American (Tennessee) 1904-1910. Earthenware. Given to Memphis Brooks Museum of Art by Decorative Arts Trust.] 

In its permanent collection the Brooks has a really lovely example from Stephen's early phase -- actually a collaborative piece done with his mother, Nellie Stephen, who decorated it. This teapot, pictured above, was molded by W.B.; Nellie added natural white frost daisies with green leaves, built up in relief, on a soft blue ground.

One of the Museum's support groups, Decorative Arts Trust, purchased the piece for the public to study and enjoy. Like Collab, this is another volunteer group that's great for design professionals or anyone with a passion for decorative arts. Having been on the Memphis scene for more than 30 years, the organization welcomes newcomers. Four-term president of the Board of Directors, John J. Tackett (an architect who previously worked at Parish-Hadley in NYC before establishing his own firm), just completed his final term and explained to me that DAT membership fees -- lower than those at other museums -- are kept within reach for a wider range of design enthusiasts with help from upper level contributors.

[Wikimedia commons]

"Among my earliest memories is visiting the Brooks Museum as a preschooler with my older brother's class. When I was a child, admission was free and I would often go alone in the summer after age 12 or so; a friend of my mother's was the director and I would stop in her office to say hello. But otherwise, it was just me and the occasional guard in the galleries back in those days. So I am happy to help bring people in to enjoy the museum as much as I have," he added.

 [Screengrabs from John Hughes commentary about the Art Institute of Chicago scene in front of Marc Chagall's America Windows.]  

[Earthenware vase with crystalline glaze, circa 1935, by Walter B. Stephan. Via Memphis Brooks.]

John notes that DAT currently consists of about 400 members, almost as many men as women, with their common ground being interest in design. Apart from decorative arts, most love architecture, interior design and gardens, too. Benefits of participation include private tours of outstanding houses and collections, and admission to special talks. Dr. Stanton Thomas, the Brooks curator of European Art and Decorative Arts, serves as liaison between DAT and the Museum. If you're in the Memphis area and have a schedule flexible enough to attend evening and weekend events, click here to learn more. The next generation of supporters is definitely encouraged to get involved.

And speaking of keeping art accessible, the Brooks will offer free admission tomorrow, May 18, in celebration of International Museum Day.

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