Visitors to the Ackland Art Museum Thursday night had the chance to merge art and literature with a program connecting poetry from the Civil War to Jacob Lawrence’s exhibition “The Legend of John Brown.”
At the event, Leslie Balkany, the museum educator who facilitated the evening’s program, associated poetry from “Poets of the Civil War,” a collection of poems from the Civil War era compiled by J.D. McClatchy, with the Lawrence art installation about the famous abolitionist John Brown.
She gave the participants a verse from a Civil War poem and asked them to match it with a print that they thought represented the writing visually.
When examining the matches made, Balkany took the opportunity to elaborate on Lawrence’s works.
While many of the matches were a matter of interpretation, some had stronger links to the images.
One of Walt Whitman’s poems featured in the collection describes the hanging of Brown, which is also depicted in one of Lawrence’s prints.
The art and literature program takes place every three months, and Balkany said she chooses the literature based on what the Ackland is currently displaying.
At each session, there is also a co-facilitator who is a UNC faculty member. Thursday night featured Eliza Richards, an associate professor in the English and comparative literature department and an adjunct associate professor in the American studies department.
The discussion drew an intimate group of visitors with an interest in poetry, art and the war. They talked about some of the poets included in the collection, such as Herman Melville, Walt Whitman and Richards’ favorite, Emily Dickinson.
Richards pointed out that though the Civil War was a great event in American history, a singular great piece of art didn’t emerge.
The collection of poetry was intended to include great works produced at this pivotal time in America’s history, but Richards doesn’t think it captures the scope of the poetry in that era.
“There are thousands of poems from the Civil War,” Richards said. “I don’t think we should stop here.”
Balkany wasn’t completely taken by the poetry either, but for different reasons.
“I’m not a poetry person, I only do this for the group. I want to give you diversity,” Balkany jokingly said.
Balkany is retiring in June, but she will continue to facilitate Ackland’s discussion series as a volunteer, to the pleasure of the participants.
“Mrs. Balkany is a very inspirational lady,” said Polly Devany, a regular at the discussions.
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