Latest News

Spotlight on the Collection

November 2014: Buffalo Vector

Buffalo Vector (Yellowstone Border). Merritt Johnson, 2009-2010. Oil and alkyd on canvas. Gift of the artist, AFI463.2012.

Buffalo Vector (Yellowstone Border). Merritt Johnson, 2009-2010. Oil and alkyd on canvas. Gift of the artist, AFI463.2012.

Buffalo Vector (Yellowstone Border), Merritt Johnson, 2009-2010

It is always rewarding to see Museum visitors draw close to a work of art, stop, and look closely. Without fail, this painting compels people to draw near.

From afar, Buffalo Vector is discernible as a landscape with rolling grassy hills, a beautiful golden green in the foreground, and cooler gray in the background against a backdrop of blue sky. Dark evergreens punctuate the terrain. A brilliant band of red divides the canvas horizontally, creating a boundary between the foreground and the background. The hard-edged band is broken in places, and red paint bleeds into the landscape below. In the foreground, a single buffalo stands out, dark brown against the golden grass. In the background, smaller buffalo make their way toward the foreground and the bleeding red boundary. Hundreds of delicate arrows and vector lines float on the surface of this scene, evoking the movement of the breeze, swirling insects, rising waves of heat, or the descent of raindrops from the sky.

In this work, Johnson – an artist of Mohawk, Blackfoot, and non-indigenous descent – considers the boundary of Yellowstone National Park, a designated habitat for the protection of bison, which were driven to near extinction in the 19th century. As with other elements of nature that cannot be contained or controlled – such as the flight of birds, the migration of animals, or seeds carried on the wind – the buffalo do not recognize the line of demarcation that defines the space where they should and should not roam, nor the dangers they face when they cross that border.

Johnson writes, “Human investment in land is so much about resources, about what we can get for land and what land can do for us. It’s all about use, for our comfort or convenience… I think that there is an Indigenous approach to land: to view the land as something that we need to sustain, rather than the land sustaining us. I think about the relationship that animals have to the land as being an Indigenous relationship.”

Mummies are a classic Halloween costume, but you can get very authentic if you copy the style of this mummy mask! // "Mummy Mask" Chancay culture, Peru (1000-1460), 1100-1460. Wood and shell. Museum purchase, 1964.104.1

10 Art-Inspired Halloween Costumes

Happy Halloween! There’s no place better than the Museum to be inspired, so why not draw from our collection for your Halloween costume this year? There are plenty of spooky sights and colorful characters in our galleries to create a costume

This gallery contains 10 images. View All Images »


Meet the BMA’s Newest Support Group

The Birmingham Museum of Art has launched a new support group for members who are interested in learning (or learning more) about the world of art collecting. This group, called Emerging Collectors, will take the mystery out of establishing and maintaining a collection through educational events, exclusive tours of private collections, discussions with BMA curators, and more. While connecting with fellow art enthusiasts, the Emerging Collectors support group will also become more familiar with the Museum’s collection and other support groups.

Elizabeth and Bill KoleszarElizabeth and Bill Koleszar, chairs of Emerging Collectors, hosted a kickoff event at their home in September. Guests enjoyed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres while meeting the Museum’s curatorial staff and hearing about plans for Emerging Collectors this year. New Emerging Collectors members were also invited to join the Friends of American Art to view the private collection of  Marlene and Crawford Taylor in October. More events for Emerging Collectors will be scheduled soon!

Click here for more information on Emerging Collectors, or to join this support group.

Mobile Tours

So Close to Heaven smartguide feature

Vajradhara, 18th/19th century. Nepal. Gilt copper alloy. Private Collection, New York, EX3.2013.11.

Vajradhara, 18th/19th century. Nepal. Gilt copper alloy. Private Collection, New York, EX13.2013.11.

The Museum recently added 10 new stops to its smartguide in conjunction with the opening of So Close to Heaven: Sacred Sculpture from the Weldon Collection. The So Close to Heaven smartguide feature, available for FREE here, complements any visit to the exhibition and allows visitors to explore artworks and themes in-depth.

The So Close to Heaven smartguide feature includes:

  • An overview and welcome to the exhibition from Dr. Donald A. Wood, the Museum’s Senior Curator and Curator of Asian Art
  • Images and more information about individual artworks and groups of artworks in the exhibition
  • Audio commentary from specialists on Asian art, history, and culture
  • Video Masters of Fire, which explores lost-wax casting, molded sculptures, and finishing techniques
  • Close-looking activity about mudras (symbolic or ritual gestures)
  • A new Family Focus! tour, “Animals as Assistants,” for adults and children to explore together

The So Close to Heaven 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’s information desk, located on the 2nd floor in front of Oscar’s café; FREE WiFi is also available throughout the Museum. Headphones are also available in the Museum Store for visitors who would like to access audio and video content in the exhibition.

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


Interview: Design Week Birmingham


Design Week Birmingham is a multifaceted event that includes installations, lectures, film showings, exhibits, workshops, and social gatherings inspired by the belief that design matters. In its second year, Design Week Birmingham will be held October 20-25, 2014, featuring plenty of ways for everyone to get involved, learn something new, and see Birmingham’s creative community at work.

We recently spoke with Shannon Harris, Senior Art Director at BIG Communications, who has also been an integral part of beginning, continuing, and implementing plans for Design Week Birmingham.

Shannon Harris

Shannon Harris

1. This year marks the second annual Design Week Birmingham. As a relatively new organization, where did the idea to create Design Week Birmingham begin?

A couple of years ago, several of the core organizers of Design Week were involved in cross-disciplinary design projects all over town. Andrew Thompson of Lewis Communications and Plenty Design Co-op were working on a group show about micro-manufacturing. I was working with a group of architects on a brand for Second Avenue North. Creative Director at the Museum James Williams was working on an early modern art and design exhibit for October 2013 called Vanguard Views. Bruce Lanier of Standard Creative was launching MAKE. Rhea Williams of AIA was launching a new space for designers called the Alabama Center for Architecture. Amy Pleasant was inviting creative folks from all over town to give Rapid Fire presentations in her beautiful backyard home studio.

It was at Amy’s that I met Jared Fulton of Williams Blackstock Architects. He had been working with Andrew on the Plenty Design Co-op project, and the two of them decided that this thing absolutely must happen. It was just the right time in Birmingham for all of these collaborators to combine efforts and create something bigger—and we couldn’t be happier that we did. There are volunteers on our committee from creative companies all over town that have spent the last year planning an amazing Design Week!

2. What happens at Design Week Birmingham? What role do you play in the orchestration of Design Week Birmingham?

Design Week Birmingham is a series of events all over town that brings designers and lovers of design from all disciplines together to celebrate, collaborate, and learn. We have documentaries, workshops, presentations, and even a beautiful design shop. You can check out the full schedule of events on the Design Week Birmingham website. As for my role, I’m involved in the planning of several events including the Printers Fair and Aaron Draplin’s keynote presentation. We’re a small group of all volunteers, so everyone on the committee has to wear a lot of hats.

3. Is there anything we can expect this year to be different from last year’s Design Week Birmingham?

We have 23 events on this year’s calendar compared with 14 last year. It’s bigger, more organized, and maybe even a touch more edgy.

4. Will you be participating in Design Week Birmingham? If so, what events are you looking forward to most?

Of course! It’s the best week of the year! I’m most looking forward to hearing the renowned/notorious Aaron Draplin do his thing; going to the Printers Fair, where I hope to walk away with all kinds of beautiful new printed treats; and finally heading to Rapid Fire for a night of intense inspiration for people with short attention spans. And I don’t think anyone should miss Ford Wiles’ and James Williams’ ArtBreak on Tuesday during lunch. They’ll be taking us through the process of shaping the future of the Museum’s brand.

5. How does the Birmingham Museum of Art influence your work in design and your outlook as a designer?

I’ve been working with a group for the past few months at BIG Communications and the team at BMA on a new brand for the Museum. During that time, I’ve had the pleasure of touring the BMA’s permanent collection. Besides the obvious visual inspiration and head-clearing powers of the Museum, I’m inspired by the restraint the curators use by showing us only a section of their huge collection at a time. This kind of selection means the Museum is always a new experience for its visitors. We want Design Week to also be sustainable for years to come, so each year we only present a fraction of Birmingham and the region’s rich design culture.

To learn more about Design Week Birmingham and the schedule of events, please visit their website. If you want to get involved with Design Week Birmingham at the Museum, be sure to come for our ArtBreak on Tuesday, October 21 at noon, and to Andrew Freear’s lecture on Wednesday, October 22 at 4PM. Both events are free and open to the public!


Art Inspires Art

Lucy JonesTeen BMA is the Museum’s leadership and volunteer program for teens in grades 9-12. Members, who come from a variety of different schools in the Birmingham metro area, learn more about the Museum and careers in the arts, and go behind-the-scenes with curators and visiting artists. They learn about objects in the Museum’s collection and share that information by interacting with visitors in our family gallery, Bart’s ArtVenture, on the weekends.

Most of the students in the program specialize in fine art, but not all. Some, like Lucy Jones, a creative writing major at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, are interested in art and museums but express their creativity through other outlets. Lucy learned about Teen BMA from her older sister Abby, who participated in the program for all four years of high school and is now a freshman in college. A writing assignment on ekphrasis (poetry inspired by art) at school prompted Lucy to select and write about an artwork in the Museum that Teen BMA had not studied together: a portrait of King George III by English painter William Buchy. Lucy’s poem, below, was awarded the Electra Award from The Birmingham Arts Journal, where it was first published.

George III, 1761. William Buchy (English, 1713-1784). Oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William M. Spencer, Jr., 1959.116.

George III, 1761. William Buchy (English, 1713-1784). Oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William M. Spencer, Jr., 1959.116.

Mr. George the Third I’d Like to Ask

Can I build trenches in the folds
of your undergarments?
can I wage war across your skin
and spend my after-battle feasts
in the dark red of your cloak,
as thick wine drips like potions
in your belly?

King, there is no ocean in your eyes,
not like the one you’d like to rule,
because you are the sky before midnight
when everything is waiting,
you are the pounce of a flickering candle flame
onto a curtain,
listen to the screams of the people under your boots
and tell me

did the painter do justice to your crimson cloak
or did he water down the color
to try and cover up all the blood you’ve shed?



5 Facts About Gandhi

1000509261001_2033463483001_Mahatma-Gandhi-A-Legacy-of-PeaceIn a speech, Martin Luther King Jr. once referred to Mahatma Gandhi as “a man in the hearts of all of humanity.” Through acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi has earned a spot in our hearts as an icon for peace. As we reflect on Gandhi and his life on his birthday (Gandhi Jayanti, celebrated on October 2), we wanted to share 5 facts you may not have known about him:

  1. Gandhi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times between 1937 and 1948. After his death the Nobel Committee publicly declared its regret for never awarding him the Prize. When the Dalai Lama was awarded the Peace Prize in 1989, the chairman of the committee said that this was, “in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi.”
  2. The railway station at Pietermaritzburg, South Africa is named in his honor (Mahatma Gandhi Station) because it was there in 1891 he was unceremoniously thrown out of a first class train compartment just for being a person of color. This was his first experience of racism and became a turning point in his life.
  3. He had a set of false teeth he carried in the folds of his robes that he took with him when he went on his daily walks, which were usually 11 miles long.
  4. He spoke English with an Irish accent because one of his first teachers was an Irishman.
  5. Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948, shot at close range by Nathuram Godse. Prior to his death, there had been five unsuccessful attempts to kill Gandhi, the first occurring in 1934.

On October 17, we invite you to celebrate the life and birth of Gandhi through Gandhi Jayanti. The celebration will incorporate an essay and poster contest by students, as well as feature Vijay Seshadri, a renowned Pulitzer Prize winning poet. Click here to learn more. We hope to see you there!


BMA Behind-The-Scenes: New Logo

The age of digital media and technologies has quickly changed the way we communicate and connect with one another in ways we could have never imagined. With the incorporation of new communication platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the Museum saw the need for a more dynamic logo, one that could be easily adapted across a multitude of channels.

Earlier this year, we called up the branding experts– and art lovers– at BIG Communications to see if they could help. What followed were many months of meetings and brainstorming sessions, yielding hundreds of logo renderings. Ultimately, we settled on a timeless mark, which (literally) embodies the Museum. Working with our Creative Director, James Williams, the group at BIG developed countless ways the logo can be applied, and at times transformed, to serve the many facets of the Museum’s communications.

Collaborating with our friends at BIG was a great experience, and we look forward to utilizing our new logo in future communications.The best part is, the whole project was captured on film by Gigi Douban and her team for “Alabama, Inc.” a series about Alabama industries which airs on Alabama Public Television. Check out the video to get a glimpse of the creative process and a sneak peek at BMA’s new logo.