The Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC, Acquires Monumental Canvas by artist Barbara Pennington of the Civil Rights Movement

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The Mint Museum  in Charlotte, NC, has just acquired the remarkable, large-scale painting “Selma” (1965) by Barbara Pennington (1932 – 2013). Measuring nine feet across, this powerful canvas depicts the heart-wrenching events that unfolded during a series of civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama, in the spring of 1965.

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“Selma” (1965). Barbara Pennington. Oil on canvas. Lent by the family of the artist. L2014.1 Pending acquisition by The Mint Museum.  Image © Mint Museum of Art, Inc.

Pennington, an Alabama native and a talented painter who had won a four-year scholarship to study art at the University of Alabama, was working in New York at the time of the Selma marches and attacks. The events unfolding in her home state inspired her to create this monumental canvas, which is unlike the vast majority of her other, more abstract work. Likely drawing upon images that appeared in the mass media, Pennington wove together her narrative into a striking scene that still serves as a powerful, moving representation of these tragic events almost 50 years later.

“Selma” was recently discovered by the artist’s niece, Charlotte resident Vicki Moreland, while going through Pennington’s studio shortly after her death. Rolled up in a corner, it had not been seen in many years and was a surprising discovery, as the artist worked almost exclusively in an abstract style for the majority of her professional career.

“I was amazed when Mrs. Moreland showed me images of ‘Selma’,” recalls the Mint’s Senior Curator of American, Modern, and Contemporary Art, Dr. Jonathan Stuhlman, “and even more so when I had the opportunity to see it in person. As we approach the 50th anniversary of these tragic events, Pennington’s painting will serve as a powerful reminder of the struggles and sacrifices of the brave individuals who participated in the Civil Rights Movement.”

Adds Moreland: “Aunt Barbara would be very happy to have her work in such a lovely museum, but I imagine it would also have been bittersweet given the events that inspired her to create ‘Selma’. Today, I think she would see her painting as a testament to the will of the people involved in those historic marches. I am grateful to The Mint Museum staff for their efforts to introduce her work to Charlotte. It’s been an emotional journey to get here, but seeing Aunt Barbara’s work in the same hall with contemporary masters is an exciting opportunity for a woman who meant so much to me.”

“Selma” is currently on view in the museum’s permanent collection galleries of Modern & Contemporary Art on Level 4 of Mint Museum Uptown at Levine Center for the Arts, 500 South Tryon Street in Charlotte.

The museum will observe the 50th anniversary of the landmark events depicted in both Pennington’s canvas and the film with a free public program in March entitled “Conversation: Selma in Retrospect – The 50th Anniversary of a Monumental Civil Rights Moment.” The free program on March 25 from 6:30-8pm will be held at Mint Museum Uptown. For more information, see (mintmuseum.org/happenings).

The Mint Museum is a leading, innovative museum of international art and design committed to engaging and inspiring all members of our global community. Established as the first art museum in North Carolina in 1936, The Mint Museum has grown to include two dynamic facilities, Mint Museum Uptown and Mint Museum Randolph, and currently boasts one of largest collections in the Southeast. The Mint proudly offers its visitors inspiring and transformative experiences through art from around the world via its renowned collections, exhibitions, educational programs, and scholarship.

Mint Museum Uptown houses an internationally renowned Craft + Design Collection, as well as outstanding collections of American and Modern & Contemporary Art. Designed by Machado and Silvetti Associates of Boston, the five-story, 175,000-square-foot facility combines inspiring architecture with cutting-edge exhibitions to provide visitors with unparalleled educational and cultural experiences. Located in the heart of Charlotte’s dynamic center city, Mint Museum Uptown is an integral part of Levine Center for the Arts, a cultural campus that includes the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, the Knight Theater, and the Duke Energy Center. Mint Museum Uptown also features a wide range of visitor amenities, including the 240-seat James B. Duke Auditorium; the Lewis Family Gallery; art studios; a museum shop, and a critically-acclaimed restaurant, Halcyon, Flavors from the Earth.

Located in what was the original branch of the United States Mint, Mint Museum Randolph opened in 1936 in Charlotte’s Eastover neighborhood as the state’s first art museum. Today, in a beautiful park setting, intimate galleries invite visitors to engage with the Art of the Ancient Americas, Decorative Arts, Fashion, European and African Art, among other collections. Resources include a reference library with over 18,000 volumes, a theater featuring lectures and performances, and a museum shop.

For more information, visit (mintmuseum.org).

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