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The McClung Museum reopens with an exhibition called Women's Work featuring this bronze sculpture of the goddess Diana by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth.

The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will reopen to the public after closure due to the pandemic. The museum will be open to the general public every Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with prior registration. Visitors to the museum can enjoy a new temporary exhibition, Women’s Work, through July 24. The exhibition, which is presented by First Horizon Foundation, features 28 paintings, ceramics, sculptures, and works on paper from the museum’s permanent collections and will provide a number of virtual programs for the campus and Knoxville communities.

The McClung’s Jefferson Chapman Executive Director, Claudio Gómez, is excited that the exhibition will highlight the work that has been done during the museum’s closure: “The team of the McClung Museum has responded creatively to the COVID-19 crisis, and although the building is closed, our programs and activities have remained active to engage with the different communities that we expect to serve. I am proud of the work done by my team during these months, and I am sure that the steps we are implementing for a limited reopening in January will allow us to provide some of the on-site experiences that are deeply missed by many people.”

Women’s Work is curated by Emma Grace Thompson, a UT alumna and former graduate assistant for the McClung Museum. It was born out of her research into the McClung Museum’s collections along with her interest in women’s history.

a brightly colored Navajo rug displayed in an exhibition
A Navajo rug in the Women’s Work exhibition

“I noticed a wealth of artwork made by women in the McClung’s collections after reading more about the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ #5WomenArtists campaign. This exhibition is a natural fit for the McClung Museum because of its permanent collection of significant women artists, including Elizabeth Nourse and Maria Martinez, and the institution’s interest in diversifying its collection of artists. Many of the works in this show have never been exhibited before, so this is an opportunity to bring attention to unseen works by well-known artists as well as works by lesser-known, and in some cases even anonymous, women artists,” said Thompson.

The representation of women in cultural institutions is a nationwide issue. As a recent study published by the Public Library of Science notes, of the more than 10,000 artists in the permanent collections of 18 prominent art museums in the United States, 87 percent are male.

The artists included in the exhibition range from naturalist Maria Sybilla Merian to African American activist Elizabeth Catlett and Native American artists including San Ildefonso Pueblo ceramicist Maria Martinez and Eastern Band Cherokee Indian basketmaker Lucy Nola George. The exhibition also underlines how painters like Adelia Armstrong Lutz and Elizabeth Nourse changed the artistic scene of the region and East Tennessee.

Women’s Work acknowledges the responsibility of museums to expand their collections to include not only more women artists but also more artists of color. The exhibition highlights recent acquisitions and promised gifts of art by African American and Native American artists, including printmaker Althea Murphy-Price and Cherokee carver Amanda Crowe, as the McClung seeks to incorporate new and needed voices.

a bandolier bag displayed in a case at an exhibition
A bandolier bag in the Women’s Work exhibition

Assistant Director and Curator Catherine Shteynberg feels that this work is crucial to the future of museums. “It is a tremendous responsibility and opportunity to tell the stories of our communities as museum curators. COVID and the Black Lives Matter movement have provided museums with the opportunity to look inward and re-evaluate our practices and where we should be headed next. Women’s Work is a landmark on a new path that the McClung is laying––one in which we acknowledge our shortcomings and focus on telling stories that we’ve ignored or overlooked.”

The exhibition has also provided an opportunity for the McClung to launch new initiatives. As a part of its new Adopt-an-Object program, two paintings by Elizabeth Nourse were adopted by Barbara Cole and John G. Peters to be conserved for the exhibition.

A number of events centered around themes of the exhibition will be hosted virtually. An artist’s talk with artist, advocate, and activist Jessica Caldas, offered in collaboration with the UT School of Art, will take place Tuesday, March 2, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. A panel discussion, Independence through Financial Literacy, is offered in partnership with the exhibition’s presenting sponsor, First Horizon Bank, to help students and others move toward the financial independence required to fully pursue creative work and other aspirations. It will take place Tuesday, April 6, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

A full calendar of exhibition programming is available online.

About the McClung Museum

The McClung Museum is at 1327 Circle Park Drive. Museum admission is free, and the museum’s pandemic hours are Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. by appointment. Visitors should register at tiny.utk.edu/visitmcclung and review the visitor guidelines, parking information, and check-in process.

The museum is following UT’s guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Check the website and social media for updates to hours and visitor policies.

CONTACT

Zack Plaster (865-974-2144, zplaster@utk.edu)