10 Must-See Pieces From St. Louis Museum of Art’s “Art Along the Rivers” Exhibit
A vibrant mix of artwork – from beautiful ceramics and glass to crazy quilts and weathervanes – joins more traditional oil paintings from the great rivers of this region in a bicentennial celebration at the St. Louis Art Museum .
But the exhibition, “Art along the Rivers”, goes far beyond dusty portraits of founders and leaders to show the flow of movement to and from this region and the creative richness of the region:
• Western artists and photographers work with Native Americans, who also travel from the Plains to Washington, DC, and return to protest government contracts
• Artist colonies are springing up in Potosi, Cape Girardeau, University City and north of St. Louis, among others.
• Iron ore, clay and other local materials are used for terracotta work, carvings and corncob pipes. European immigrants adapted Missouri’s resources to their own traditions, and more modern artists revised frontier metalwork.
• The World’s Fair attracts art from across the country. Later, 21st century activists react to centuries-old fairground images.
Melissa Wolfe, curator of American art for the museum, said the goal was to show “complex, and sometimes competing, artistic narratives resulting from these powerful elements and the communities they attracted.”
To do so, she and Amy Torbert, assistant curator of American art, and others traveled to dozens of regional locations in search of works, some of which had never been exhibited in St. Louis, which transmitted an idea of the cultural heritage of the region. All 155 exhibits were made or collected near the confluence of the rivers. The Tories traveled north to Hannibal, west to Hermann, and south to Cairo, Illinois.
In Hannibal, for example, they found a quilt made by a once-enslaved woman, well used but preserved for generations by the woman’s descendants. In Hermann, a cockerel weathervane made by a German immigrant topped the steeple of the first purpose-built church.
Only about a third of the objects in the exhibition belong to the art museum: the rest come from neighboring institutions, national or international. A buffalo skin robe, on which a warrior has painted part of his life story, has been loaned by a museum in Switzerland. An intricate wooden cabinet is borrowed from the American Folk Art Museum.
The exhibition is organized by theme, including items on display at the 1904 World’s Fair; goods, even guns, well known in the region; and art used for activism, from 19th-century river paintings by George Caleb Bingham to hands photographed by Damon Davis after the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown.
“We didn’t want to be limited by the Anglo-Saxon definition of land or state,” Wolfe said.
From earthy pewter to fine marble, the range of artwork, Torbert says, is likely to leave visitors with a “sense of delight or surprise”.
What • “Art along the rivers”
When • Until January 9; hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and Saturday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday (closed Monday)
Where • St. Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive, Forest Park
How much • $6 to $12; free for members, children under 5 and for everyone on Fridays; half-price Bicentennial discount for adults Oct. 12-14, Nov. 9-11 and Dec. 14-16.