Sunday, March 8, 2015
A curators preview of Real Life Observations by Dale Kennington at the Mennello Museum of American Art.
On January 22, I went to The Mennello Museum of American Art which was undergoing preparations for the January 23 opening of Real Lives: Observations and Reflections by Dale Kennington. This is the first exhibit in the museum's yearlong series devoted to "Storytellers of the South: Voices of Women." Curator Dr. Lee A Gray offered insights as guests followed her through the museum. I sketched Executive director Frank Holt who had just announced that he planned to retire at the end of January. Holt was instrumental in widening the museum's scope from simply folk art to all American art, and in establishing the Mennello's affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution. Virginia Mecklenberg, chief curator of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, has called Holt a "visual genius." As the group of about 20 guests moved gallery to gallery, I stayed sketching the main reception desk. Frank seemed pensive, perhaps reflecting on the influences brought to the museum. He always seemed to understand and respect my sketching obsession. So I'm sorry to see him go. This sketch was done on top of another sketch so that I could give the sketchbook a consistent flow.
Realist painter Dale Kennington is now 80 years old. She does large oil paintings of people engaged in everyday activities. She takes a series of photos of any given location and then pieces together her composition from those many visual elements. For instance a painting of people in a swimming hole featured the same bather in multiple places in the same painting. I do the same thing when I sketch on location. Often I will follow one person, sketching them multiple times to populate a scene. Dales paintings are all inspired by luminous light and often feature reflections. She married Don Kennigton, a successful business man so making a living as an artist was not a concern. She started painting because she wanted portraits of her children. In the mid 80's she gave up portraiture and switched to becoming a studio painter. In 2009 she was recognized by the Alabama State Council on the Arts with the Governor's Arts Award, and the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel as one of Alabama's "Master Artists". Seeing so many large light filled paintings made me want to start working large myself. I'm working on a 30 inch high piece right now but it is a real challenge to sit alone all day working on one painting. I'm used to sketching in the hectic chaos of life and those sketches only take 2 hours. Committing to spend a solid week with one image is a real challenge.