Melanie Norris’s The Receiver is back on view in a new exhibit titled About Face.  Featuring multiple perspectives on capturing a likeness, an essence, or the soul of a figure, the exhibit is pulled exclusively from the Museum’s extensive collection of watermedia. 
See also Melanie Norris’s views on beauty. 
In the Armstrong Gallery, through August 2015. 
Sarah Buhr, Curator

Melanie Norris’s The Receiver is back on view in a new exhibit titled About Face.  Featuring multiple perspectives on capturing a likeness, an essence, or the soul of a figure, the exhibit is pulled exclusively from the Museum’s extensive collection of watermedia. 

See also Melanie Norris’s views on beauty

In the Armstrong Gallery, through August 2015. 

Sarah Buhr, Curator

Now on View: Whitfield Lovell


Whitfield Lovell (American, b. 1959), Untitled (Card XXXI), 2005, charcoal with attached playing card.

Whitfield Lovell is renowned for thought-provoking drawings of anonymous African Americans from the 19th and 20th centuries paired with found objects. Using old black and white photographs, and more recently, imagery from contemporary sources, Lovell rescues these unidentified subjects for posterity, pulling them into the present. He says that his work is predominantly about “the importance of home, family, ancestry.”

This work is from a series of fifty-two mixed media drawings titled Card Pieces. Each work pairs a delicately drawn portrait in charcoal with an actual antique playing card. Lovell states that the “most exciting part of the process occurs when I choose the card that best fits the drawn image. It is important to understand that this process is intuitive and not formulaic.” The pairing of the portraits with the playing card is meant to evoke, according to the artist, “destiny, of chance, of one’s lot in life.”


Lovell paired the playing cards with each face based on a number of variables ranging from geometric form, social and psychological connotations, and color. For example, the artist perceives “clubs” as reflective of violence and aggression and “diamonds” refer to precious gems, wealth and delicateness. Alternately, “face cards” are loaded with heavy associations including gender, power, status, romance and sexuality. Lovell interprets the shapes and symbols of the playing cards on multiple levels, imbuing each work with a deeper, yet highly personal and esoteric symbolism.


This work is currently on view in the permanent collection exhibit, Creating an American Identity in the Musgrave Wing.

- Sarah Buhr, Curator  

It Takes Three to Tango?


The Museum has a new, temporary addition to it’s grounds - a bronze sculpture titled Tango, by Missouri artist Larry Young. The work is on loan as part of our upcoming exhibition, Maquette: The Sculptor’s Tool opening on August 29. Highlighting the use of maquettes, or models, as a tool for creating large scale sculpture, the exhibit also includes work by Ernest Trova, Richard Hunt, and James Sterritt.

But installing a large scale outdoor bronze weighing over 300 pounds is tricky - we were fortunate to have the artist’s assistance as well as the help of multiple staff members - Exhibit Manager Cindy Quayle, Museum Assistant Brian Fickett, Security Officer Joe Medina and Custodian Michele Huntley.

We hope you will enjoy this temporary addition to the Museum’s grounds, and please join us for the opening reception on August 29 from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. The work will be up through November 9th.

Sarah Buhr

Curator of Art








Artist Larry Young with his sculpture, Tango. And yes, he’s allowed to touch the artwork - he made it!! But for the rest of us, please don’t touch!


This week I welcomed the newest member of our curatorial team - a Dorfman conservation form! I’ve been using the form to mount and photograph some of the clothing in the museum’s collection all week. There are a lot of great things about this form, but my favorite part is that I can easily change its shape to support whatever dress I’m photographing, from a 1700s Robe a l’anglaise, to a light, breezy dress from the 1910s. It is strong enough to hold the weight of my support materials, but light enough to be easily transportable. Plus, it is made with no resins, glues or other hazardous chemicals that could damage the old textiles!

For more information about historic clothing check out these two books, I use them to assure I’m creating the right silhouette for each dress: Dressed for the Photographer by Joan Severa & Costume in Detail by Nancy Bradfield

Greta Russell, Registrar

Mighty Rescue Crew

Last week I attended the Association of Midwest Museum’s conference in St. Louis. I spent Monday with the Midwest Registrars Committee’s Mighty Rescue Crew building mounts for a collection of hats at the Griot Museum of Black History.  Eight of us Registrars/Collection Specialists worked together first building ethafoam blocks in the shape of the hat, which we padded out with batting and covered with muslin. Next we glued the mount on a piece of acid free blue board and made a mock-up of a bankers box that will be used to store the hats. We completed mounts for seventeen hats. Check out the pictures below!

Instructions for creating storage mounts like these can be found in the book: Storage of Natural History Collections: Ideas and Practical Solutions

Greta Russell, Registrar

tamarackgallerywv asked:

Thank you for the follow! I especially like your "Real or Fake? Tips and FAQ" and have recommended it to many gallery visitors who have questions about artwork they have at home. Lovely blog!

Thank you for the nice words! Our curatorial team sure is proud of this little blog.

Ventures in the Vault: Victorian Hair Wreath

Friday the 13th wouldn’t be complete without a creepy find from the vaults. While conducting our comprehensive inventory of the collection, we’ve found plenty of intriguing, interesting, and odd pieces (18th century commode, anyone?). But this Victorian hair wreath might be one of the creepiest.

The wreath (SAM 1951.218) came into the collection in 1951, at a time when the museum was acquiring a lot of pieces of historic interest. Unfortunately, we know nothing about whose hair makes up this wreath, or where it was created.

Some wreaths were used as a reminder and way of feeling connected to a lost loved one, but there were also many that were more akin to a family scrapbook, hair of individuals living or deceased bound together in a unique way. The use of human hair as craft medium and decoration was much less eerie at the time. It was a sentimental way to feel connected to someone you cared about, and show off your handiwork. Wreaths like this one were usually displayed in the home – likely in the parlor with other products of decorative needlework.

Manipulation of hair is difficult and tedious. The gimping technique involved grouping 10-80 strands of  hair and twisting them around a knitting needle to create a spiral affect. Fine wires were used to bind them together. With this type of delicate work, no one could deny the maker’s needlework skills. The book Self Instructor in the Art of Hair Work by Mark Campbell published in 1867 illustrates different braiding techniques and ways to incorporate the hair into works of art.

To learn more about hair art visit these links:

Hair Wreaths in the University of Wisconsin’s collection

Watch artist Melanie Bilenker create art from hair today

Visit Leila’s Hair Museum in nearby Independence, Missouri

Rachel Johnson, Museum Assistant

Greta Russell, Registrar

The Politics of Art: How Deborah Weisel Saved SAM

Mrs. King announced that Mrs. Wilhoit, Miss Weisel, and Miss Trimble would present a bill before the State Legislature asking for permission to levy a city tax to build and support a museum in the new Civic Center proposed by the Bartholomew Plan.

-Minutes from the meeting of the Board of Directors of the Springfield Art Museum, November 22, 1934

image  image

[Image of Civic Center proposal courtesy of History Museum on the Square]

The Springfield Art Museum is one of Springfield’s oldest institutions, and it went through many phases of financial and physical development before construction on our current facility began in the 1950s. The first 25 years of the Museum’s life were marked by many highs and lows: while it succeeded in fostering an appreciation of the arts and education in Southwest Missouri, it had to run its exhibitions and programming on a shoestring budget for many years. In 1946, the Springfield Art Museum was officially deeded to the City of Springfield after City Council approved a special tax that would, among other things, provide consistent financial support for a city museum.

By this time, the Springfield Art Museum was almost two decades old and had been operated tirelessly by its self-appointed Board of Directors, including its initial founder, Deborah D. Weisel. Though Weisel’s title was only General Secretary, she effectively acted as curator, head educator, development officer, and publicist. Since the incorporation of the Museum in 1928, the Museum supported itself through donations and membership dues, keeping the cost of entry and activities as low as possible for the people of Springfield.

As the Great Depression began to wane, Weisel strove to enact legislation that would help stabilize the Museum’s operating budget, allowing the board to hire an executive director and full-time staff. To do this, she solicited the advocacy of two local state senators, Edward A. Barbour, Jr. and Allen McReynolds. Both were democrats (rare for the region) and lawyers, and they often collaborated with each other on legislation. Both Barbour and McReynolds have long a history of supporting the arts throughout Missouri. For example:

  • Allen McReynolds (1877-1960) represented the 28th district as a Missouri state senator from 1935-42. He was from Carthage, and grew up studying law under his father. Primarily a lawyer and a historian, McReynolds was heavily involved in the arts and culture of Missouri, even serving as vice president of the Missouri Historical Society from 1925-36 and president from 1937-41. He acquired a portrait of Thomas Jefferson by itinerant Missouri painter George Caleb Bingham for the Historical Society. Regarded as worthless after being badly damaged in the 1911 fire at the Jefferson City capitol building, the painting was rescued by Senator Michael E. Casey of Kansas City, who had it cleaned and repaired. When Casey died in 1949, McReynolds acquired it and had it further repaired and authenticated at the Nelson Gallery (now Nelson-Atkins Museum). The Bingham painting, a reverent copy of Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of Jefferson, survived in good condition and is now in the collection of the Missouri State Historical Society thanks to McReynolds.

  • Edward A. Barbour, Jr. (1896-1970) represented the 20th district as a Missouri state senator from 1935 to 1942, having been elected and reelected at the same time as McReynolds. Like McReynolds, Barbour studied law after his father and worked as a prosecutor for the majority of his career. Barbour happened to meet another famous Missouri artist, Thomas Hart Benton, in 1935. Benton came from a long line of Neosho politicians, and his brother Nat, a lawyer, introduced him to Barbour. This meeting was fortuitous, as Barbour had been recently interested in commissioning a mural depicting Missouri history. Benton agreed to the project if funding could be secured. Barbour presented his Senate Concurrent Resolution 6 on March 5, 1935, which proposed to honor Benton by having him paint an elaborate mural inside the capitol building in Jefferson City. The resolution passed, and Benton began painting “A Social History of the State of Missouri,” a theme which he was encouraged to interpret freely. The finished product became very controversial among some representatives and citizens, who complained the murals “weren’t pretty enough” or portrayed the “wrong aspects” of Missouri’s history. Benton responded to this criticism by stating that the mural was “not beautiful but truthful, and that by being truthful they were beautiful.”

Interestingly, Deborah Weisel approached McReynolds and Barbour just a couple of weeks after they were first elected to office in November of 1934. Barbour himself lived on East Walnut Street in Springfield, and it is possible that Weisel was acquainted with the two men before or during their campaign. She knew, in any case, that they would be amenable to aiding small regional museums and wasted no time in seeking out their advocacy for her cause. The bill allowing cities to levy a small tax for museums was presented to the Missouri Senate for the first time in February of 1935, and SAM board meeting minutes indicate that Weisel went to Jefferson City for the occasion. 

The Springfield Art Museum wasn’t able to take advantage of the new tax levy for another ten years, but the City of Springfield adopted it just in time for the Museum to finally hire an Executive Director in 1947. Of course, anyone who has driven up Boonville knows that the Civic Center plan of which Weisel was a proponent never came to pass, but the Springfield Art Museum nevertheless found a lovely permanent home in Phelps Grove in 1958. The largest gallery was named after Deborah Weisel to commemorate her epic commitment to the museum.


After Winslow Ames was brought on as SAM’s first executive director, Weisel was finally able to tender her resignation from the Board of Directors after twenty years of service. She must have been extremely satisfied that her primary mission—ensuring that the Springfield Art Museum would continue to be provided for after her departure—came to pass. She died just a few years later, in 1950.

Springfield owes its rich arts culture to Weisel’s hard work, and it is very possible that the Springfield Art Museum would not have been able to develop as much as it has over the decades if not for Weisel’s keen political savvy. By the same token, we owe just as much to the state and city officials who routinely took pains to support the arts in Missouri throughout their careers. 

To learn more about Deborah Weisel’s life and work in Springfield, check out this interactive timeline made in conjunction with our exhibition, Art Crusader: The Enduring Legacy of Deborah D. Weisel.

-Kiri Mack-Hansen, Research Assistant