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Ackland Art Museum opens "Chords of Memory"

The newest exhibition at the Ackland Art Museum links music, literature and American history together.

“Chords of Memory” which opened March 9 and runs until May 13, will showcase lithographs by Thomas Hart Benton, a regionalist American artist whose art was popular in the 1930s and 1940s.

Laura Fravel, a curatorial intern for the Ackland, was the main curator for the exhibition.

“Half the prints deal with music, the other half deal with myth of memory,” she said.

The lithographs are ink-impression prints of sketches Benton created while travelling through the Southern and mid-Western U.S.
Fravel said that because Benton was a harmonica player and songwriter, his work was heavily inspired by music.

She said he was also inspired by Mark Twain, especially for his honest depictions of race.

Timothy Riggs, curator of collections for the Ackland, said that though Benton was known for trying to honestly depict everyday American life, his work also has a more expressive feel.

“Everything he draws has this kind of distinctive quality that blends the realistic and the imaginative,” he said.

Riggs said much of Benton’s work shows his love of country and folk music through his use of rhythmic curves and patterns.

“They awake powerful emotion,” he said.

Fravel said that Benton intended his art to be shown by everyday people — he sold his work through mail order.

“He’s a fabulous artist and he’s one of those artists that we don’t talk about anymore,” she said.

Carolyn Allmendinger, director of academic programs at the Ackland, said Benton’s art was created at an important time in art history when the government supported American artists.

“It’s a great example of this historical moment in the arts in America,” he said.

Allmendinger said some of the Ackland’s past exhibits have explored the concept of vernacular culture.

She said Benton’s work will show yet another facet of the concept.
Allmendinger said that various upcoming events and lectures will explore the different aspects of the exhibitions, from folk-influence bands that will play at the Ackland to a lecture on Mark Twain.

She said that there’s also a class this semester on American music that will study the exhibit.

“It engages with a number of different kinds of fields and areas of interest,” she said.

“It’s a nice chance to see works of art that you might not otherwise get to see.”

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