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Mobile Tours

Art Speaks mobile app

iPad-Art Speaks homeIn August 2013, the Museum debuted its second mobile app, which engaged with a series of exhibitions commemorating the Civil Rights Movement.

The Art Speaks app was designed to enhance the experience of onsite and offsite visitors with original content, including contributions by scholars, collectors, community members, and the artists themselves. The app offered images, text, audio and video clips, links to web resources, and other related exhibition and event information.

In 2013, Birmingham hosted a citywide Civil Rights Movement commemoration, marked by the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, which took the lives of four little girls. The Museum’s series Art Speaks: 50 Years Forward dealt with the history of the movement, specific events, and the continued struggle for human rights.

Etched in Collective History (August 18-November 17, 2013) presented the work of artists who interrogate, depict, and memorialize the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to an introduction by curator Dr. Jeffreen Hayes, the app provided exclusive interviews with contemporary artists Emma Amos, Whitfield Lovell, Radcliffe Bailey, Jefferson Pinder, and Shinique Smith, among others, whose artworks deal with the legacy of the movement.

For The Birmingham Project (September 8-December 2, 2013), acclaimed photographer Dawoud Bey commemorated the four young girls and two boys whose lives were lost in the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. Bey photographed girls, women, boys and men that represent the ages of the young victims at the time of their deaths, and the ages they would be today. The app provided video commentary on the project from Bey, as well as audio interviews with community members who served as portrait sitters.

Question Bridge: Black Males (October 6-December 29, 2013) explored challenging issues within the Black male community through transmedia conversations that cross geographic, economic, generational, educational, and social strata of American society. The app included video excerpts of the project curated by the Question Bridge team – which includes Chris Johnson, Hank Willis Thomas, Bayeté Ross Smith, and Kamal Sinclair.

Finally, the app included video of the full performance of the Museum’s first commissioned, site-specific performance art piece. Introduced by curator Dr. Jeffreen Hayes, ‘Tis So Sweet Or I Need Sugar Lawd (April 25, 2013) featured Theaster Gates, an ensemble of musicians, and community members who shared stories and reflected on the pivotal themes of the movement and African American heritage.

“The contributions from artists, collectors, and community members made the Art Speaks app truly unique,” said Kristi McMillan, assistant curator of education for visitor engagement. “Some of the artists rarely speak about their art. We also interviewed some of the artist’s subjects, including Dr. Renée Jones-Jeffery, the infant pushed in a carriage in Ernest Withers’s iconic 1961 photograph Daddy, I Want to Be Free Too. These voices breathed life into the artwork, providing insights into the histories of people and objects. Their take on how the art speaks to them likewise encouraged visitors to reflect on the impact and legacy of the Civil Rights Movement.”

“The web-based app allowed visitors to access Art Speaks in a variety of ways,” said Sean Pathasema, new technology initiatives project manager. “For example, visitors to the Museum’s galleries could use a smartphone or tablet, or off-site visitors could pull it up at home on a desktop. This versatile platform gave our visitors not only the widest possible access through the device of their choice but also the most up-to-date information each time they visit any section of the app.”

Visitors without their own devices checked out an iPad from the Museum’s information desk. Complimentary public WiFi is available throughout the Museum and the Ireland Sculpture Garden.

Mobile Tours

Look of Love for Apple iPad

main-screenThe Birmingham Museum of Art is pleased to debut The Look of Love for the Apple iPad. Visitors can use this app in the Museum, and a nationwide audience can download it, free of charge, through the Apple App Store.

The app was created to support The Look of Love: Eye Miniatures from the Skier Collection, an exhibition curated by Graham C. Boettcher, PhD, the William Cary Hulsey Curator of American Art at the Museum, and the first major exhibition of lover’s eye jewelry, on display at the Museum from February 7 – June 10, 2012.

Lover’s eyes are hand-painted miniatures of single human eyes set in jewelry and given as tokens of affection or of mourning, created in England during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The diminutive size of the precious objects – many are less than an inch wide – begs for closer examination by the viewer, but the delicate nature of the jewelry and inlaid watercolors require them to be displayed in cases under glass. The iPad app allows visitors to see these tiny, intricate objects at up to twenty times their actual size. They may also view images of the backs of objects, many of which are adorned with human hairwork, enamel decoration, or personal inscriptions commemorating a love or loss.


Staff Updates

Meet the New Curator: Robert Schindler


Curator of European Art

Curator of European Art

We are delighted to welcome our new Curator of European Art, Robert Schindler, Ph.D. Schindler’s area of specialty is Northern European Art, yet his experience encompasses the entire range of material that he will be responsible for here in Birmingham. His scholarly expertise and strong museum experience will shine new light on diverse aspects of the Museum’s collection. This shift in leadership of the European collection will surely lead to new and exciting opportunities for the BMA. Dr. Schindler is the second curator to hold this position at the Museum, and he began his appointment on December 2, 2013.

My Museum, the BMA’s magazine, interviewed Robert shortly after his arrival.

My Museum Magazine: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Robert Schindler: I was born and raised in Berlin, Germany, where I also went to school and eventually received a Ph.D. from the Free University. In high school I spent 6 months in West Virginia as an exchange student, which was my first encounter with the US. While pursuing my Ph.D., I came back to the States to work in the manuscript department at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, after which I returned to Munich to finish my graduate work. My first position was a research and teaching fellowship at Columbia University between 2010 and 2012, and then I went to work in the European Art Department of the Detroit Institute of Arts. I am joining the BMA from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where I have held a post-doctoral curatorial fellowship in the department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. I am moving to Birmingham with my wife and our little daughter, who recently turned two.


MM: How would you describe your curatorial style?

RS: I deeply believe in the power of art to enrich our lives and my goal is to let the art speak for itself whenever possible. At the same time, it may be that the art of a distant past is not immediately accessible to a modern day audience and, at the Museum, it is our job to help the visitor better understand the artworks’ meaning, context, and history. In the past I have always enjoyed working with my curatorial colleagues—docents, patrons, and visitors—and I look forward to continuing that in Birmingham. I think my curatorial style is really shaped by my passion for museum work in all its facets, as many people and many forms of expertise create a rewarding experience for the visitor.


MM: What is one of your top priorities in your new position?

RS: First and foremost, my goal is to provide the best possible care for the collection. These works have been entrusted to us and it is our responsibility to preserve them for our enjoyment and for future generations. Birmingham has an important collection, so one of my top priorities will be to continue to bring great art to the Museum, whether it is through acquisitions, individual loans, or exhibitions. I hope to increase interest in the Museum among the people of Birmingham, but I also hope to raise awareness beyond Birmingham. When I travel nationally and even internationally I want people to say: “Oh, yes, I have heard of the BMA and its collection!” I hope I can help make Birmingham proud of its Museum.


MM: What do you find of most interest in the Museum’s European art collection?

RS: There are many gems to be discovered in the BMA’s European collection and I look forward to learning the collection and its history. One of my favorites already is the remarkable and, in many ways enigmatic, Battle of Pavia by an unknown Flemish painter. To give another example, Ruisdael’s Winter Landscape is an exceptionally beautiful and intimate painting. I am also intrigued by the breadth of the French collection; there is so much to discover and explore.


MM: What are you most excited about for your move to Birmingham?

RS: I am excited to help care for a collection of such quality, scope, and diversity, and to work with colleagues to make the collection relevant to the people of Birmingham and its visitors. I very much look forward to working with and shaping such a diverse collection of European art, ranging from the 13th-19th centuries and encompassing works in a variety of media. On a personal note, my family and I are very much looking forward to living in Birmingham, which seems to us a perfect place to raise our little daughter. We have already encountered so many extremely nice and helpful people, and we look forward to becoming part of the Birmingham community.


Tickets on sale now for the 2014 Museum Ball

Inspired by old Birmingham charm and the 19th-century French elegance represented in the paintings of Delacroix and the Matter of Finish, the exhibition opening at the Museum on February 22, 2014, La Ville Magique will be an unforgettable evening.

Funding from the Ball allows the Museum to offer outstanding educational programming and community outreach that provides opportunities for all ages to discover the world through art.  Last fiscal year, 25,086 students, 803 teachers, and 175 regional schools were served by the Museum’s education and outreach programs.  By attending the Ball this year, you can help us increase our impact on the community and provide necessary funding to support our arts education efforts in Birmingham.

Please click here for more information and to reserve your space!



Monuments Men and the BMA

Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877), oil on canvas, 1876. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Birmingham Museum of Art Endowment for Acquisitions; Members of the Birmingham Museum of Art; Dr. and Mrs. David Sperling in honor of their friends; Mr. Arthur E. Curl, Jr. in memory of his beloved wife, Donnie; Illges-Chenoweth Foundation; Dr. and Mrs. Jack C. Geer; Mr. James E. Simpson; Mr. and Mrs. James A. Livingston, Jr.; Mrs. Evelyn Allen; Mr. and Mrs. Thomas W. Barker, Jr.; and Mr. and Mrs. Harold H. Goings.

Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877), oil on canvas, 1876. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Birmingham Museum of Art Endowment for Acquisitions; Members of the Birmingham Museum of Art; Dr. and Mrs. David Sperling in honor of their friends; Mr. Arthur E. Curl, Jr. in memory of his beloved wife, Donnie; Illges-Chenoweth Foundation; Dr. and Mrs. Jack C. Geer; Mr. James E. Simpson; Mr. and Mrs. James A. Livingston, Jr.; Mrs. Evelyn Allen; Mr. and Mrs. Thomas W. Barker, Jr.; and Mr. and Mrs. Harold H. Goings.

With the debut of the highly anticipated Hollywood movie Monuments Men, the Birmingham Museum of Art is proud to honor our close connection to this important historical event.

The Monuments men were a group of 350 men and women from thirteen nations, who volunteered for military service to protect monuments and other cultural treasures from the destruction of World War II. In civilian life, many were museum directors, curators, artists, architects and educators.

The first director of the Birmingham Museum of Art, Richard Howard, was one of those heroes. He, along with many others, worked furiously and secretively to track, locate, and ultimately return more than 5 million artistic and cultural items stolen by Hitler and the Nazis.

Among the objects rescued is a beloved piece that now hangs in European gallery at the Birmingham Museum of Art as part of our permanent collection. Entrée d’un Gave, 1876, by Gustave Courbet, is a stunning landscape painting, renowned for the artist’s use of texture and visual drama. In the painting, Courbet recalls the striking topography of his native region in eastern France, as he created the piece while living in political exile on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The piece became a part of the Museum’s collection in 1999.

Although we can’t be sure that Richard Howard had direct interaction with our piece in particular, we are honored to have a permanent reminder of his and others unprecedented contribution in preserving some of the world’s most precious cultural treasures.

Community News

Special Visually Impaired Tour

Visually Impaired Tour by Philips AcademyWe live in a world where we spend more time isolated on our phones, email, social media, and the like, than engaging in face-to-face social interactions. Scientific studies show that empathy levels have declined dramatically in the last 10 years. But all hope is not lost! One’s capacity for empathy is fluid, and can grow with focus and practice. Art and the Museum provide perfect vehicles for such learning experiences.

A recent collaboration with the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Birmingham Alabama Chapter of Links, Incorporated, and Phillips Academy teachers engaged Phillips’ students with an empathy experience and “illustrated the tremendous value of the Birmingham Museum of Art’s program for the visually impaired,” comments Torrey Van Antwerp DeKeyser, Executive Director of the EyeSight Foundation of Alabama. She elaborates, “Not only does the Museum offer an innovative way for those with vision impairment to experience some of its artistic treasures, it also provides a tangible way to understand what it is like to navigate our world with limited or no vision.”

The Phillips Academy students are members of the JUNA of Alabama, a student-run Model United Nations Assembly for students in grades six, seven, and eight designed to increase awareness of worldwide issues, how the United Nations operates, and stresses the importance of diplomacy and problem-solving among countries. Each participating American school is assigned a country to research and paired with a classroom in that country. Philips Academy was assigned Liberia, and all the students in their paired classroom at the Liberian School for the Blind happen to be visually impaired.

“The BMA has offered its Visually Impaired Program for over 20 years, so we were in a unique position to offer this special program for the Philips students. We had not only the equipment to simulate common vision impairments – special goggles, glasses, and blindfolds – but also trained staff, docents, and past experience with empathy programs to help guide the Philips students,” commented Kristi McMillan, Assistant Curator of Education for Visitor Engagement. The students’ advisors met with Education staff over the course of the fall to design a program to help them understand some of the physical challenges their Liberian counterparts might face. Their empathy experience at the Museum included a Visually Impaired Program tour, a debriefing discussion with the students, and a studio activity.

On Friday, January 24, 2014, the students arrived for a VIP tour of the American and 19th-century galleries. Each student wore goggles, glasses, or a blindfold to simulate vision impairments – so that they could understand what a museum experience might be like for their Liberian peers. Museum docents and assistants guided the students through the Museum, helping them safely navigate to and through the galleries, and to help with stools, seating, and gloves. At each artwork, docents used special techniques like verbal description of the artworks to help students envision the masterpiece before them. Students also participated in the program through touch, as they explored tactile models of the artworks. A particularly rewarding component of the tour is the ability to touch (with gloved hands and guided assistance) a bronze sculpture in the Museum. “I can’t say enough about how organized and professional – but fun and engaging – the tour was for the students. A couple of them best described their experience as ‘life-changing’ in an interview with the media following the tour,” shared Links member Martha Emmett.

Even though most later described a sense of wariness and helplessness during the tour experience, the students all did their best to immerse themselves in the experience. In the wrap-up discussion, the students spoke candidly about what they learned and how they felt. Links member Carnetta Davis observed, “this has been a very enlightening experience for the students, showing them how they can bring together art and the lives of the visually impaired to make a real connection with the kids in Liberia. They’ve developed empathy for the blind and can begin to understand what it is like to deal with an impairment of any kind.” When asked after the tour if they would be able to be blind, students commented that “It would be really hard. I wouldn’t be used to it.” Another student said, “I don’t think I could be blind because it would be hard to trust people to take me everywhere I needed to go.” And if you are wondering if the students began to feel empathy, one described that the tour experience “shows how people who live with a visual impairment are treated and how you can treat them better.”

Museum Artist-in-Residence Toby Richards then facilitated a studio activity to help the students use texture to create a quilt square. Each square told a unique story that will be translated into Braille for the Liberian students to read. Richards described the experience as, “the spiritual and universal connection between my hands creating art, the American students who made a tactile quilt square, and the students in Liberia who will feel the quilt and read the stories in Braille. It was a transformative experience.” One student wanted to make an eye on her quilt to let the kids in Liberia know that “we are watching over them and protecting them from afar.” Another made a quilt with a piano and music notes because “it is what I enjoy, and they can also listen even if they can’t see.”

This is one example of how the Museum is exploring ways to help visitors develop empathy for others via art. We offer visitors an opportunity to unplug, relax, and refresh. We extoll the virtues of art and its capacity to trigger emotions, memories, reflections, and changes in perspective. Many of our programs and interpretation efforts are designed to maximize these personal connections between viewers and artworks. The Museum can tailor experiences like this one for other schools and organizations. For more information, please call 205.254.2643.

Spotlight on the Collection

February 2014: Jizo Bosatsu

Jizō Bosatsu (Ksitigarbha). Japanese, Heian period (AD 794-1185), about 1100. Wood.  36 × 10 × 5 1/2 inches.  Museum purchase with funds provided by the Estate of Carolyn Quinn, 2005.16a-b.

Jizō Bosatsu (Ksitigarbha). Japanese, Heian period (AD 794-1185), about 1100. Wood. 36 × 10 × 5 1/2 inches. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Estate of Carolyn Quinn, 2005.16a-b.

Jizō Bosatsu, Japanese, about 1100

One of the most beloved Buddhist deities in Japan, Jizō is a bosatsu (bodhisattva), one of a group of enlightened beings who choose to delay entry into nirvana in order to help others. As the protector of children, women, and travelers, his role extends from the physical to the spiritual world. People have historically turned to him during times of uncertainty, grief, or hardship. Placed near temples, cemeteries, and along roadsides throughout the country’s urban and rural areas, figures of Jizō help guide people through personal journeys.

Here, Jizō Bosatsu wears the simple robe and shaved head of a Buddhist monk. He once held a staff in his right hand, and carried a jewel in his left. The staff helps him on his journey, while the jewel allows him to answer sincere pleas of help.

Jizō has special significance for children. Pregnant mothers and parents of sick children often pray for good health and make offerings to him, as do parents of deceased children. According to Japanese legend, children who have died young cannot cross the Sai River on their way to the afterlife, since they have not accumulated enough good deeds and have caused their parents to suffer. As penance, they are stuck piling stones on the banks of the river, where an ugly crone steals their clothes. Jizō rescues the children, hiding them in his robe from the crone and other demons. Parents of deceased children often dedicate a Jizō statue. They dress it in children’s clothing and make offerings of flowers, fruits, toys, or candy to replenish the children whose clothes the crone has stripped away.

—Charling Chen, Goodrich Intern 2013-2014

Join the Conversation!

People grieve in different ways. Some follow cultural or traditional practices, some grieve with others, and some grieve alone. How can art help people cope with hardship, grieving, and healing?

Explore some examples, and join the conversation!

Etched in Collective History, Birmingham Museum of Art, August 18 – November 17, 2013

“Grief,” Andrea Bayer, curator of European paintings, Metropolitan Museum of Art

“The Healing Power of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial,” Pacific Standard, April 23, 2010

Student Exhibitions

Birmingham Fashion Week: Rising Design Star Challenge

Bham Fashion Week 2013April 1 – 20, 2014

The Museum is partnering with Birmingham Fashion Week to present an exhibition of fashion designs from students in 7th through 12th grade. Birmingham Fashion Week was founded on the ideals of bringing unity to our community through fashion. Local and national designers, alongside local and national boutiques, and the Birmingham Museum of Art will gather together to promote and inspire our rising stars. Models, make-up and hair stylists will showcase their talents on the runway, while encouraging locals and visitors to explore the creative talents of Birmingham. Visit for more information.

Community News

College Connections

Continuing its commitment as a resource for local colleges and universities, the Museum recently partnered with local colleges on several exhibitions that commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham: Etched in Collective History, Dawoud Bey: The Birmingham Project, and Question Bridge: Black Males.

Students from Samford University, Miles College, Birmingham-Southern College, and UAB enrolled in a BACHE (Birmingham Area Consortium of Higher Education) class this fall, “Birmingham in Civil Rights Memory.” It was organized by Samford University’s Christopher Metress, Ph.D., and aimed to teach students about the Civil Rights Movement through film, literature, music, and art. Twelve students enrolled in the class, met with Museum educators to explore the exhibitions, and created artwork for their final projects.

Birmingham-Southern College students, led by Sandra Sprayberry, Ph.D., worked with Museum educators to create writing projects inspired by the exhibitions. The students presented their work at the Museum at a private function on December 10.

UAB participated in many ways during the fall semester. UAB faculty Jessica Dallow, Ph.D. (Art History) and Michele Forman, Ph.D. (History) co-taught a class, “Race and Representation,” organized around the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement exhibitions at the Museum and the UAB Visual Arts Gallery. The overarching theme for consideration was: How do we, as artists, art historians, and other art workers, create art and projects about the past in the present that are meaningful and complex? Students learned not only about the history of the Civil Rights Movement, but also how art can reflect on and re-present historical events. Dallow and Forman wanted to get students to think critically and creatively about how to make and write about socially-engaged, historically-informed, provocative artwork through discussion, debate, writing, and reenacting historical moments.

UAB Office of Student Life, Student Multicultural and Diversity Programs organized a community dialogue around the exhibition Question Bridge: Black Males with faculty, community leaders, and students from the Blazer Male Excellence Network. UAB Office of Student Life also co-hosted a College Night for nearly 200 UAB students in September. The evening included a panel discussion on the role of art in civil rights and featured distinguished speakers Cleo Thomas, Attorney and Art Collector, Ahmad Ward, Head of Education at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and Darius Hill, Chair of Visual Arts at Alabama School of Fine Arts, moderated by BMA Curator of Arts of Africa and the Americas Emily Hanna, Ph.D. After the panel, students toured the entire Museum, went on a civil rights-inspired scavenger hunt, learned about resources from the Hanson Library, participated in a community art project, and feasted on gourmet fare from Oscar’s. It was a first-time visit for many of the students, and we hope that we will begin seeing them more often!

The Museum is looking for more ways to be a resource for the local college community. If you are interested in becoming more involved as a student or faculty member, please contact Associate Curator of Education Kristen Greenwood at

Community News

Children Create Artwork Inspired By Etched In Collective History

We were able to bring Etched in Collective History to life for many children across the city. Students from South Hampton Elementary School’s after school care enjoyed creating Romare Bearden-inspired collages after a field trip to the BMA for a guided tour of the exhibition. Also, more than 800 Students from Fairfield City Schools painted a decommissioned fire hose, similar to the fire hoses found in the exhibition by Theaster Gates. This hose was donated by the Fairfield Fire Department as a dedication to the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement at their annual Cultural Arts Festival. In September 2013, the Child Life Program at Children’s of Alabama visited the exhibition as part of their continued field trips to the Museum for studio classes and docent-led tours.