SPARTANBURG S.C. - Naturalist and poet John Muir once said, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.”
Nature’s offerings of sublime vistas and quiet reverie captivated not only Muir, but visual artists as well. While Muir’s muse was the Sierra Nevada, the ancient monumentality of the Carolinas’ Blue Ridge Mountains has inspired generations of painters on this side of the country.
“The Mountains Are Calling: High Seasons in the Carolinas from the Johnson Collection,” an exhibition of works by a variety of artists who have sought to capture the South’s seasons and sky on canvas, will open in the Richardson Family Art Gallery in Wofford College’s new Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts on Wednesday, May 17.
“The Johnson Collection is honored to help celebrate the opening of Spartanburg’s newest cultural jewel, the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts,” says Susan Phifer (Susu) Johnson, a Spartanburg philanthropist and community leader who along with her husband, George Dean Johnson, began the Johnson Collection in 2002. “Jerry and Rosalind Richardson are longtime friends with whom we share enduring values, most particularly a devotion to Spartanburg’s vitality and to Wofford College, George’s alma mater.
“Beyond the inaugural display of mountain scenes on view through the summer, the collection has pledged to lend annual curated exhibitions, drawn from our holdings, to the Richardson Family Art Gallery for the next three years,” Johnson continues. “It is our hope that these presentations – like the facility itself, the stunning Chihuly sculptures, the student art showcases and other displays – will support Wofford’s mission to provide its students with a broad, rich – and beautiful – liberal arts education.” Wofford President Nayef Samhat says the college’s partnership with the Johnson Collection in which students have had the opportunity to curate exhibitions from the collection is enhanced exponentially by the loaned exhibitions in the new center for the arts. “I can’t say enough about how important this partnership with the Johnson Collection and Susu and George Dean Johnson is to Wofford students. Now, we will have the opportunity to showcase some of the beautiful and important works of Southern art here on campus for not only our students, but the Spartanburg community. The exposure to this art will enhance the Wofford experience for all students, especially those in our vibrant arts programs.”
The featured works in the exhibition are as varied as their makers – from the majestic, highly detailed 19th century panoramas by William Frerichs and Andrew Melrose to the ethereal, impressionistic views by Lawrence Mazzanovich and Margaret Law.
In sweeping scenes atop iconic peaks to vignettes of secluded woodland streams, both native-born and visiting artists expressed their reverence for the Appalachian’ Southern province. The ephemerality of nature offered additional possibilities for creative exploration by considering seasonal changes. Vibrant fall foliage gives way to snow-covered summits before bursting with lively flora and humid haze – all transient conditions rendered permanent by the artist's brush.
The Johnson Collection offers an extensive survey of artistic activity in the American South from the late 18th century to the present day. The Johnson family is committed to creating a collection that captures and illuminates the rich history and diverse cultures of the region. By making masterworks from its holdings available for critical exhibitions and academic research, the collection hopes to advance interest in the dynamic role that the art of the South plays in the larger context of American art and to contribute to the canon of art historical literature. The collection also seeks to enrich its local community by inviting the public to interact with these inspiring works of art. Wofford College and the Johnson Collection enjoy a partnership that includes opportunities for students to serve as visiting curators of exhibits from the collection.
The Johnson Collection participates in the Art in Embassies program, sponsored by the U.S. State Department since 1963. The program plays a vital role in international diplomacy by advancing cross-cultural dialogue through the visual arts. The Johnson Collection supports the exchange program with the loan of “Old Man,” created in 1972 by Charleston artist-educator William Halsey, to the American embassy in Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia. The collection recently received the City of Spartanburg’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanities Award presented in January at the annual Unity Celebration.
The public can enjoy “The Mountains Are Calling” exhibition through Saturday, Sept. 16, in the Richardson Family Art Gallery in Wofford College’s Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts during these hours: 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; and 1 to 9 p.m. Thursdays. It will be closed to the public Sundays and Mondays. Admission is free.