Riders in the Sky will perform at the Imperial Theatre Dec. 15 as part of Southern Soul and Song. Courtesy photo
Riders in the Sky will perform at the Imperial Theatre Dec. 15 as part of Southern Soul and Song. Courtesy photo

Morris Museum marks 30th anniversary

Highlighting the art and artists of the South has been the hallmark for the Morris Museum of Art for three decades.

The museum celebrated its 30th anniversary with a soiree in September, and while it’s a major milestone, its director prefers to look ahead rather than what’s been in its past.

“This is really just the beginning,” said Kevin Grogan.

 The concept for the museum surfaced in the mid-1980s, but it wasn’t until founder William S. Morris III acquired 230 paintings from one collector that the museum’s focus was solidified.

“I first came to Augusta to consult with Mr. Morris about the Coggins’ collection in 1989,” said Grogan, who is marking his 20th anniversary with the museum. Keith Claussen served as its first director.

The Coggins’ collection reference to Dr. Robert Powell Coggins. He lived in a four-bedroom home with artwork pouring from every nook and cranny. He had pieces stores every place imaginable. While only a slice of his collection wound up in Morris’s hands, it was enough to serve as a foundation for the museum.

Since then, the museum’s permanent collection has swelled to about 6,400 pieces with only a minute number of pieces on display at any given time.

“About 96% is in storage,” Grogan said

Grogan cited a couple of major acquisitions to the collection that are cause for excitement for the museum’s future.

One piece he’s pleased with is a large pottery vessel by David Drake, an enslaved man from Edgefield, S.C. sometimes simply known by the name of Dave the Potter. The piece is dated 1857 and is prominently displayed in the museum’s foyer at One 10th St.

A piece of pottery by Dave Drake is a recent Morris Museum of Art acquisition. Photo by Charmain Z. Brackett

Two other items are large folk sculptures by Willie Tarver, a Wadley native and self-taught artist, who welded his pieces. They stand by the museum’s Riverwalk entrance.

In addition, the museum also has temporary exhibitions at various times during the year.

One current exhibition is The Art of William Golding: Hard Knocks, Hardships and Lots of Experience.

 “William O. Golding (1874–1943), an African American seaman and late-life artist who recorded a half-century of maritime experience in vibrant, imaginative drawings,” the Morris Museum of Art website said. “After a lifetime spent traveling the world as a merchant seaman, Golding, his health failing, was confined to the United States Marine Hospital in Savannah, where he was encouraged to record his unique experiences and adventures in the colorful and expressive pencil and crayon drawings.”

His works will be on display through Jan. 22, 2023.

Acquired and Restored will run through March 12, 2023.

Hobson Pittman, Orange & Plate, circa 1965–1970. Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia. Gift of Julia Bissell Leisenring in memory of Mrs. William S. Morris III. Photo courtesy Morris Museum of Art website

“This exhibition highlights key acquisitions and important conservation projects of the past year. More than two hundred works of art entered the collection in 2021, and a dozen more were conserved. The acquisitions include twenty-nine paintings by pioneering abstractionist Berry Fleming, thanks to Truist; numerous works by Savannah’s Christopher A. D. Murphy, a gift from his descendants; and the first work by Louisianan Chestee Harrington to enter the collection, the gift of leading folk art collectors Becky and Wyatt Collins,” the website said.

Not only does the museum highlight visual art such as painting and sculpture, but its programs feature music, literary arts and film.

The museum held the first of two weekends of local author book signings on Dec. 10.

One of the participants was first-time author, Bob Pyle, who recently published a photography book devoted to nature in Augusta.

“I took photographs over a 15-year span,” he said.

Don Rhodes signs a book at the Morris Museum of Art Dec. 10. Photo by Charmain Z. Brackett

Some of his favorite places to photograph include the Augusta Canal and North Augusta’s brickyard ponds.

Other authors will be on site from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 17.

Another of the Morris Museum programs is the Southern Soul and Song series. The next concert of which is Riders in the Sky, the Western music and comedy group. The concert is set for 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Imperial Theatre.

For tickets, go here.

The monthly Artrageous! program teaches children about an exhibition or a specific piece of artwork then ties it to a creative activity. Admission is free to the museum.       

The next Artrageous! will be Jan. 12, 2023 and will focus on the art of Willie Tarver. Admission to the museum is free on Sundays.

There are other craft events during the month such as the Create With Me! program and a new program for adults.

Each month, a film with a Southern tie is shown in the museum’s auditorium. Sweet Dreams, a movie devoted to country singer Patsy Cline, will be at noon Friday, Jan. 6, 2023.

Artist talks and other events are scheduled at various times of the year.

Not all programs are held on site. The Morris Museum of Art takes programs to those who need them.

The pandemic altered the way the outreaches were presented. In-person visits to hospitals such as the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of Georgia were placed on hold, and while some facets are back in person, the “outreach to go kits” have become a regular part of the program.

“Each kit includes an art project inspired by a work in our collection or current exhibition and all of the required supplies,” according to the website.

To learn more about the museum and its offerings, visit its website or call (706) 724-7501.

Charmain Z. Brackett is the publisher of Augusta Good News. Reach her at charmain@augustagoodnews.com. Subscribe to the newsletter here.

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