Tennessee Valley Museum of Art celebrates founder with new exhibit
Foundations: The Living Legacy of Ethel Davis to highlight visionary artist, educator and advocate
“Some of the most prominent, most influential people in the Shoals area went to the humble studio that was called the ‘art barn’ to learn how to paint… Doctors, lawyers, socialites, they were all there. All of them had a desire to learn what Ethel could teach them about painting.” — Louise Howard Linville Lenz,TimesDaily, May 3, 2001
From the Louvre to the MoMA, the history of museums is littered with founders from backgrounds as business tycoons, wealthy philanthropists, politicians, nobility and art collectors. However, the origins of the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art have more humble roots.
It was the dream of artist, educator and advocate Ethel Davis, who lived in Sheffield and Tuscumbia for the majority of her life, to build an art museum. This museum wouldn’t just be for a specific town or county, but for the entirety of the Tennessee Valley. To achieve this goal, The Tennessee Valley Art Association was incorporated in 1964. Unfortunately, Davis died Nov. 2, 1968, four years before the Tennessee Valley Art Center was constructed in 1972. Davis’ goal of an art museum would be fully realized in 2009 when the Tennessee Valley Art Center became the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art.
The Tennessee Valley Museum of Art honors the history and memory of Davis with an exhibition of her work titled Foundations: The Living Legacy of Ethel Davis, which is on display from Jan. 27 through Feb. 22. The Tennessee Valley Museum of Art, 511 N. Water St., Tuscumbia, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday and 1 to 3 p.m., Sundays. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students and free on Sundays.
In keeping with the spirit of Davis’ original Art Barn, the Foundations exhibit will include a hands-on creative space titled the Art Barn. This space will give every museum visitor the chance to create art using a variety of media, including some non-traditional supplies such as ash and shoe polish that Davis used in her own work. The Art Barn is open for the duration of Foundations and is available to all visitors with no extra charge.
TVMA curator Mollie Schaefer-Thompson will host two workshops that will include a gallery walkthrough and painting class. Details on these workshops will be announced later.
Davis studied art at Montevallo, Birmingham-Southern and under New York artist Palp Pierson. Her art was known across The South and gained recognition nationally.
TVAA systems administrator Jim Berryman said that while Davis could paint realistically with traditional techniques, she invented her own experimental style using non-traditional materials and a vibrant use of color. She explored themes of religion and everyday life and recorded an era and time gone by.
“She was very technically skilled but yet she often used child-like depictions in her art,” Berryman said. “The themes she was exploring in much of her work were more important than technical execution to her. She had a clear notion as to who she was as a person and as an artist, and that tied into the rest of her character.”