UT’s historic Greenwood Mural has found a long-term home and will continue to be displayed publicly, thanks to an agreement with the Knoxville Museum of Art.
The museum will house the Greenwood Mural—officially called The History of Tennessee—under a five-year renewable loan with UT. The painting is the work of celebrated muralist Marion Greenwood. She painted it while she was a visiting professor at UT from 1954 to 1955.
The mural will be displayed later this fall in the museum’s permanent exhibit Higher Ground: A Century of Visual Arts in East Tennessee. He exhibit features paintings and sculptures by other artists active in East Tennessee during and after the 1950s, including Buck Ewing, Carl Sublett, Richard Clarke, Walter H. Stevens, Philip Nichols, Joanna Higgs Ross, and Bob Birdwell. The gallery also will include a charcoal drawing by Greenwood owned by the KMA of an old man who is featured in the far right side of the mural.
“Having the mural in the museum’s Higher Ground gallery gives it context within the body of works by other artists of the period,” said Stephen Wicks, the Barbara W. and Bernard E. Bernstein Curator at the Knoxville Museum of Art.
“It’ll be part of this rich history of art connected to our area,” he said.
The renewable loan gives the university the flexibility to take back the mural after five years should it find a space on campus large enough to display the work.
“I applaud the board and the staff of the Knoxville Museum of Art for arranging for the continued exhibition of the Greenwood Mural as part of its Higher Ground exhibition,” said Dottie Habel, director of the UT School of Art. “While I remain hopeful that the university will be able to meet the challenge of finding a suitable venue for this work of art on campus at some point, I encourage our students to make a point of seeing the Greenwood Mural at the KMA, where it can be studied as a significant moment in the history of art in East Tennessee.”
The museum staff plans to develop a series of programs and forums relating to the mural to encourage discussion and interpretation of the work, Wicks said.
“These programs should offer an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the mural and its controversial history,” he said.
The museum will cover the insurance related to the mural and UT will cover any costs associated with setting up the mural, Wicks said.
The sixty-year-old, 300-pound oil-on-canvas work hung in the ballroom of UT’s Carolyn P. Brown University Center from 1954 until July 2013. It was removed in anticipation of the building’s demolition to make room for a new student union. It was on display this summer at UT’s Downtown Gallery along with eighteen other Greenwood works. UT officials for months sought a partner that would give the mural a permanent home before the Knoxville Museum of Art stepped up.
The mural has a checkered history. It was a source of controversy in the 1960s when some students expressed concern over its portrayal of African Americans, particularly a man who appears to be a slave or sharecropper. In May 1970, the painting was vandalized with paints and solvents. After the mural was repaired, new threats were made against it, so in 1972 it was covered by the ballroom’s paneling. New York-based EverGreene Architectural Arts performed additional restoration work last summer and prepared it for storage.
The painting features twenty-eight people engaged in various forms of song and dance, depicting the musical heritage of the state’s three divisions: west, middle and east. The left side portrays Mississippi River jazz and blues, as well as slave spirituals of West Tennessee. The center features a country hoedown with dancers and musicians. The right side showcases the religious-based Appalachian music of East Tennessee.
To learn more about the UT Downtown Gallery, visit the website.
Learn more about the Knoxville Museum of Art online.
Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, firstname.lastname@example.org)