Latest News

Spotlight on the Collection

August 2015: Woman in a Green Coat

Woman in a Green Coat. Betty Grisham (American, born 1921), 1946. Oil on canvas. Gift of artist, 2001.150.

Woman in a Green Coat. Betty Grisham (American, born 1921), 1946. Oil on canvas. Gift of artist, 2001.150.

Woman in a Green Coat, Betty Grisham, 1946

Betty Grisham’s life can be summed up in one word: extraordinary. A native of Athens, Alabama, Grisham has occupied many roles in the art world; from art teacher to museum advocate, she has nurtured countless arts organizations throughout her home state. She was on the first members’ board of the Birmingham Museum of Art, helped to establish the Huntsville Arts League, and supported the Huntsville Museum of Art. Along with her community work, Grisham is an accomplished artist and fashion designer.

Woman in a Green Coat, on view in the Museum’s exhibition Black Like Who? Exploring Race and Representation (July 11-November 1, 2015), features a woman dressed in a 1940s-style coat surrounded by flowers. The figure exudes elegance, confidence, and femininity. However, one unusual element in the painting stands out: the woman’s gaze. Women in artworks – and especially women of color – did not traditionally look directly at the viewer, as it was understood as immodest. By looking boldly out, this figure actively challenges the traditional role of the painted female as well as stereotypes of African-American women.

In the 20th century, artists typically represented black women in one of two roles: the domestic caretaker or the promiscuous femme fatale. This figure’s strong and confident expression therefore also confronts the viewer’s assumptions of an African-American woman’s role and appearance in society. She does not fit within preassigned social categories; instead, her gaze asks the viewer to consider her independently of a masculine presence or of a defining profession – as a woman who is more than just the color of her skin.

Join the Conversation!

Does femininity vary between races and ethnicities, or is there a universal quality to femininity? How do you define “femininity” in today’s culture? Check out these links, and join the conversation below!

“How Millennial Women Are Redefining Leadership at Work,” The Guardian, June 20, 2014

“Glamour and Grace: The Vintage Lens on Black Women of D.C.’s Scurlock Studio,” The Washington Post, December 22, 2014

“First ladies are regal, maternal and patriotic. Should they be sexy, too?” The Washington Post, June 26, 2014

Mural Project Unveiling

Mural Project Unveiling

On July 22, the Birmingham Museum of Art unveiled the final panels of a national award-winning community mural project to beautify the Shields Conference Center at W.C. Patton Park, a response to the destruction of the April 2013 tornadoes. The

This gallery contains 6 images. View All Images »

Interviews News Staff Updates

Meet the Fellow: Ruoxin Wang

UAB/BMA Curatorial Fellow Ruoxin Wang

UAB/BMA Curatorial Fellow Ruoxin Wang

From researching to writing to giving presentations and more, UAB/BMA Curatorial Fellow Ruoxin Wang has been a tremendous asset to the Birmingham Museum of Art. Since last August, the Chinese native has received valuable experience with and insight into Museum operations while contributing to the curatorial department in the process. Before her fellowship ends in August, learn more about Ruoxin and the partnership between UAB and the BMA below.

BMA: What brought you to UAB?
Ruoxin Wang: I graduated college with a B.A. in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language. During the last year of my college study, I became interested in Art History. It was fairly hard to change majors, especially to Art History, on the graduate level in China, so I decided to come to the U.S.. When I was searching for Art History graduate programs here, I became interested in UAB because of this fellowship.

BMA: What interests you about art/art history?
RW: I think that art is a very special and powerful way of expression and communication, not necessarily about meaning or emotion, but in a broader sense. I’m particularly interested in Northern Renaissance art, and for me, it is a very rewarding experience to connect to the past through artwork.

BMA: How have you used your knowledge from your art history classes at UAB during your fellowship at the BMA?
RW: The fellowship offers a variety of opportunities for me to participate, whether it is developing a project, doing object research, or writing worksheets. The knowledge I have gained from my Art History classes has informed my research, and the writing skills I have learned from writing essays for my classes also came in handy. And in turn, the knowledge and experience I got from the fellowship have also been very helpful for my studies.

BMA: UAB/BMA fellows typically create a project or a portion of a project with a supervising curator. Did you do a project? If so, can you tell us more?
RW: I have completed several different kinds of projects and am still working on some. I did the Kirklin Rotation, which is organized around the theme of different glazes. Also, I did provenance research on several artworks, wrote the text for one “Spotlight on the Collection,” led the discussion at one “ArtBreak,” compiled a conditional report and restoration history of the Kress paintings, and documented the X-Rays. I am working on cataloguing Chinese fan paintings and the cast iron rotation right now.

BMA: What has been the most valuable part of your time at the BMA?
RW: For me, there are several experiences I’ve found very valuable. I cherish every discussion I had with the curators here. I really enjoyed the time that I spent researching artworks, being able to inspect and appreciate them closely. It was also very exciting to get firsthand experience putting an exhibition together, albeit a small one, and to acquire a better understanding of the coordination and collaboration between different departments.

BMA: What are your career aspirations?
RW: I am still trying to decide whether to teach Art History or work in a museum or gallery setting. I’m open to different directions at this point, and I think I’ll be focused on getting a Ph.D. degree first.

Mobile Tours

Black Like Who? smartguide feature

Woman in Green Coat. Betty Grisham (American, born 1921), 1946. Oil on canvas. 29 × 22 inches. Gift of the artist, 2001.150.

Woman in Green Coat. Betty Grisham (American, born 1921), 1946. Oil on canvas. 29 × 22 inches. Gift of the artist, 2001.150.

The Museum recently added nine new stops to its smartguide in conjunction with the opening of Black Like Who? Exploring Race and Representation. The Black Like Who? smartguide feature, available for FREE here, complements any visit to the exhibition.

The Black Like Who? smartguide feature includes:

The Black Like Who? smartguide feature, accessed for FREE here, is optimized for tablets, smartphones, and other web-enabled devices. Visitors without their own devices may check out an iPad for FREE from the Museum; FREE WiFi is also available throughout the Museum. Headphones are also available in the Museum Store for visitors who would like to access audio content in the exhibition.

Using your web-enabled smart device, click here to get started.

Interviews News

Meet the Members of The Moth

the mothAudiences across the country cannot get enough of The Moth. With its headquarters in New York City, the not-for-profit organization directs raconteurs as they present submitted narratives to create an experience that The London Guardian calls “brilliant and quietly addictive.” On Wednesday, July 8, the Museum, in partnership with Arclight of Birmingham, will welcome this storytelling sensation to a free, after-hours event inspired by the BMA exhibitions Between Fantasy and Reality: Frank Fleming and Inherited Scars: A Meditation on the Southern Gothic.

Following performances by local storytellers, The Moth’s Artistic Director Catherine Burns, who often hosts NPR’s Moth Radio Hour, and storyteller Tricia Rose Burt, who is frequently on the radio show, will discuss the Moth’s Southern roots, and the rise of the modern storytelling movement. In anticipation of the evening, we set out to learn a little bit more about the two Moth members, who both have southern ties.

Birmingham Museum of Art: How did you both get started storytelling?

Tricia Rose Burt: As a child, I starred in every school play and wrote most of them. But growing up, I was taught that I should not draw attention to myself, and by high school, I just tried to fit in. Still, I kept telling stories to my friends. Somewhere around age 48, after a lifetime of trying to stay appropriately behind the scenes in wordy careers, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to take a public speaking class with her because she was afraid to talk in front of an audience. I thought to myself, “That’s so strange. How can someone be afraid of an audience? I actually look for audiences.” I took the class, and the next thing I knew I was performing a one-woman show that I’d been writing in my head for 13 years. Then I told a story at a Moth StorySLAM in NYC and was hooked. I come from a family of storytellers, so it comes naturally to me − they just tell their stories at the dining room table and not on a stage.

Catherine Burns: Even as a little girl growing up in Alexander City, Alabama, I knew that I wanted to somehow tell stories for a living. I forced my stuffed animals to act out my Disney records and once tried to cast my siblings in a lip sync version of Annie. I wrote stories for the local paper while in high school. I spent ten years as a filmmaker and TV producer, but fell in love with The Moth when a friend took me to a show on my second night in New York. Within two years I’d left the film world behind for live storytelling.

BMA: Do you feel a special connection to Southern stories, since you grew up in the South?

TRB: Absolutely. The rhythm and the pacing feel like coming home. And there are so many amazing Southern storytellers − they don’t all have to be famous, either. Just go to a grocery store and start a conversation.

CB: I do. I love the South. As a Southerner living in the north, being Southern sometimes feels like being from a foreign country. I can feel more connected to a stranger from Alabama than I do to someone who has lived in the apartment across the hall from me here in New York for five years. So many of my favorite storytellers are Southerners. Roy Blount, Jr. comes to mind.

BMA: Aside from their geographic origins, what makes Southern stories unique?

TRB: I was raised in Florida and went to school in Tennessee, and I’m currently commuting to Nashville from New Hampshire in the hopes of making a permanent move. But I’ve spent more than 25 years living in New England. Now, New Englanders are wonderful, but they are very reserved. Southerners are the exact opposite. They are open and matter-of-fact and will tell you every detail of their lives with humor and dramatic flair. Plus, I think the South itself is a character in Southern stories. My one-woman show takes place in the South, and I’ve had audience members say to me, “You know, if this happened in Rhode Island, it wouldn’t be near as funny.”

CB: Southerners have a beautiful way of drawing things out in just the right manner. They know how to include the perfect details so that the suspense builds. They also know how to throw in humor, even during dramatic stories. I also think that culturally, there’s an openness to discussing problems that you don’t always get in, say, New England. Conflict and the willingness to be vulnerable are the cornerstones of great

BMA: I know you’ve been asked this before, but why is storytelling important? What about it compels you?

TRB: It’s all about connection − understanding someone else’s world better. Stories help change how we think about a situation or a person and ultimately how we think about ourselves. We hear a story and think “I’m not alone” or “I’m not crazy” or “She is telling my story.” Stories build community.

CB: We all know that we live in world where we talk to each other less and less. Everything is digital, and we communicate through our gadgets. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the rise of the modern storytelling movement exactly corresponds with the rise of social media and digital technology. It’s in our DNA to connect. Storytelling takes out the middleman. Instead of a big blockbuster movie that it took thousands of people to make, it’s just one person on stage, telling their story in their own words. There’s magic in that.

BMA: What makes a good story?

TRB: I’ve been blessed to work with The Moth for several years, and I’ve learned so much. One key to a great story is vulnerability. Tell us not only about your triumphs, but also about your weaknesses and mistakes. Tell us about how you were teased in the third grade because you had a lisp − we’ve all been teased about something. Another key is internal change. How did an event affect you? Who you were before versus who you were after the moment? That change is what helps make a story compelling.

CB: For Moth-style storytelling, we look for stories that involve a change in the storyteller. We all have these moments in our lives when something happens, and it fundamentally changes how we feel about something. A willingness to tell on yourself is also powerful. What most connects us to each other are our foibles, or mistakes. Our missteps make us interesting.

We cannot wait to listen to southern stories and hear more from The Moth members on July 8 at Storytelling and Southern Identity with Members of The Moth! Learn more about the event here.

This performance is funded in part by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

South Arts logo ARC Light  logo NEA logo


“Victory! Liberty! Peace!” Happy Independence Day!

"Independence Day Ribbon" (1865), unknown maker, American. Silk. Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Gift of Dr. Graham C. Boettcher. AFI.113.2007.

“Independence Day Ribbon” (1865), unknown maker, American. Silk. Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Gift of Dr. Graham C. Boettcher. AFI.113.2007.

During the nineteenth century, silk ribbons were popular means of commemorating major events, political campaigns, and the deaths of prominent public figures. This 150-year-old ribbon dates from the first Independence Day after the end of the Civil War. The slogan “Victory! Liberty! Peace!” is a line from the popular Union anthem “Columbia’s Guardian Angels,” which was written in 1864 by the songwriter Henry Clay Work. The country was still in mourning over the recent death of Abraham Lincoln, and similar ribbons bear his likeness.

This ribbon was owned by Major William Downie (1820-1893), namesake of Downieville, California, a Scottish-born explorer and prospector, who found (and lost) his fortune there during the Gold Rush of 1849. It descended to his great-great-great grandson, Dr. Graham C. Boettcher, Chief Curator and Curator of American Art at the BMA, who donated it to the collection.

Spotlight on the Collection

July 2015: Spirit Catcher


Spirit Catcher. Frank Fleming, 1982. Unglazed porcelain. Museum purchase with funds from the Members of the Birmingham Museum of Art, 1982.204a-b.

Spirit Catcher, Frank Fleming, 1982

The unicorn-human hybrid in Fleming’s Spirit Catcher sits on a tree stump looking out at the viewer, seemingly unaware of the small bird alighting on his outstretched hand or the snarling dog at his feet. The unicorn man and the dog appear in marked contrast to one other – calm versus rage, enchanting fantasy versus harsh reality.

The art of Frank Fleming has been described as whimsical and intriguing. Though his fantastical sculptures have endless stories to tell – and sometimes seem to embody a biting darkness – he rarely speaks about what they mean to him, preferring instead for viewers to invent their own stories. In his 1982 exhibition Personal Mythologies at the Museum, Fleming said, “We’re in an age where we are bombarded by all kinds of external media. It’s most important for each of us to be able to turn inward to listen, hear, and respond to the personal myths that might (but not necessarily do) dwell inside us.” Throughout our lives, we are shaped and molded by external influences, like family, school, friends, or the media. In sorting through these pressures, we find a personal balance between fantasy and reality.

The unicorn man in Spirit Catcher, one of 18 sculptures in the Museum’s exhibition Between Fantasy and Reality: Frank Fleming (February 27 – August 9, 2015), may represent the imagination of childhood, while the dog may signify the reality of adulthood. Spirit Catcher seems to encourage us to hang on to our individuality and to ignore the voices that tell us not to believe in unicorns who wear button-down vests.

Explore more!

Visit the Beyond Fantasy and Reality special feature in the Museum’s smartguide to explore more works from the exhibition and to hear commentary from artist Frank Fleming.

Join the conversation!

Every day, we handle family dramas, difficult coworkers, deadlocked traffic, and countless other stressors. What do you do to deal with stress or to escape reality? Check out the following links, and join the conversation below!

“The Dalai Lama’s translator explains why being kind to yourself is good for the world,” The Washington Post, May 14, 2015

“How innovations can help us reverse the impact of stress,” The Washington Post, July 3, 2014

“Dialing Back Stress With A Bubble Bath, Beach Trip And Bees,” NPR, July 16, 2014