“Soul of the South” opens at state museum in July

The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum in Natchitoches opens its new exhibit, Soul of the South, with a reception on Saturday, July 1, 2023, from 6-8 p.m. The event, sponsored by the Friends of Louisiana Sports and History (FLASH), is free and open to the public.

The exhibit features more than thirty pieces of contemporary Southern art by 11 self-taught artists. Many of the artworks were part of a 1998 donation by Dr. Kurt Gitter and his wife, Alice Rae Yelen, former assistant director of education at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Mildred Hart Bailey, head of graduate studies and research at Northwestern State University for 26 years, also donated artworks to the exhibit. Additionally, the exhibition includes several works by Clementine Hunter, one of the most important self-taught American artists of the twentieth century.

“This new exhibit reveals the enduring appeal of Louisiana’s artwork created outside the traditional academic or professional framework,” said Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser. “In many cases,creating art through a need to express themselves, inspire others, or save souls was the driving factor for the artists featured in Soul of the South. Their works provide a vital and unique connection to our past.”

The two- and three-dimensional works of art featured defy easy categorization. While often described as “outsider,” “folk,” “naive,” or “visionary,” none of these terms adequately depicts the items in this exhibition. Each artist has created a highly personal statement that represents an individualistic response to his or her environment.

Despite this diversity, these artists do have several attributes in common. Most obviously, they share a regional identity; all of the artists are from Louisiana. In addition, they developed their artistic skills outside a classroom or art studio. Unlike many conventional artists, they did not learn about color theory, composition, form, and other academic conventions. Similarly, by choice or circumstance, they had little to no exposure to the world of museums, galleries, and art dealers.

Subjects range from the autobiographical work of Roy Ferdinand to Clementine Hunter’s documentation of daily life on a cotton plantation. Religion and ecstatic visions inspire several artists, including Sister Gertrude Morgan and Royal Robertson. For other artists, including Herbert Singleton, civil rights and social issues are prominent as either a primary theme or a subtext.

The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum is located at 800 Front Street in Natchitoches and open between 10:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Admission to the museum is $6 for adults, $5 for students, senior citizens, and active military, and free for children age six and under. Visit LouisianaStateMuseum.org for more information.