Building the Collection

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Francesco de Mura, Italian, 1696–1782 and Michele Pagano, Italian, About 1697–1732, Saint Anthony visiting Saint Paul of Thebes in the Desert, about 1720–1732, oil on canvas; Courtesy of Porcini srl; Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Purchase with funds provided by Ritchie and Charles Scribner, AFI.47.2018

As an institution committed to collecting broadly and in depth, the Birmingham Museum of Art is home to a diverse collection of more than 27,000 paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, and decorative arts dating from ancient to modern times. Our collection presents a rich panorama of cultures, featuring the Museum’s extensive holdings of Asian, European, American, African, Pre-Columbian, and Native American art. It has been built through both purchases and gifts, which play a fundamental role in the ongoing effort to assemble the finest collection in the Southeast.

A generous gift from Ritchie and Charles Scribner recently enabled the BMA to acquire a Neapolitan painting from the early 18th century, Saint Anthony Visiting Saint Paul of Thebes in the Desert. It is likely an early work by Francesco de Mura (1696–1782), the leading artist in Naples at the time, who created major fresco cycles for its churches, which rivaled those of Giambattista Tiepolo in Venice. Here, de Mura, a figure painter, may have collaborated with another artist, possibly Michele Pagano (1697–1732) who painted the landscape.

Over Lolo Pass, a painting by Cherokee artist Kay WalkingStick, refers to a mountain pass located in the Northern Rocky Mountains between the border of Idaho and Montana. This ancient road was used by the Nez Perce Indians as they migrated to hunt buffalo. In 1877 it was their path to escape as they fled from the U.S. Army rather than be confined to a reservation. They walked over 1,400 miles, and were ambushed numerous times, suffering many losses before they were finally captured just 40 miles from the Canadian border. WalkingStick has depicted the legs and feet of the Nez Perce traversing an abstracted landscape—a style of painting that adorns the rawhide bags, known as parfleches, used by some Native American groups to carry their belongings. This work was purchased with funds from the Estate of Clyde W. Oyster, whose generous bequest was designated to build the Museum’s collection of contemporary Native American art.

Allan Houser, American, Chiricahua Apache, 1914–1994, The
Potter, 1982, bronze; Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the
Birmingham Museum of Art; Purchase with funds provided by Mrs.
Vicki S. Daniels in memory of George V. Daniels, Jr., AFI.95.2018

The Museum’s recent acquisition of a sculpture by the late Allan Houser builds a bridge between the collections of Native American, American, and modern art. Houser, a Chiricahua Apache, received academic art training in the first decades of the 20th century, and blended his exploration of traditional themes and subjects with a modernist aesthetic. The bronze sculpture, entitled The Potter, depicts a seated Native American woman wrapped in a blanket and holding a pot. The striking figure, with its monumental, abstracted form, reflects Houser’s interest in the work of Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi, and other modern sculptors who themselves had been influenced by tribal art forms. This work was acquired with funds provided by Vicki Daniels in memory of her husband, George Daniels. Vicki and George enjoyed seeking out art together, and George’s taste in art was varied. Their wide-ranging interests led to a home filled with art created in Birmingham and across the world. Following George’s passing, Vicki became involved with the Museum’s Friends of American Art support group. On the Friends of American Art trip to Santa Fe in the spring of 2018, Vicki saw Houser’s work at the Allan Houser Sculpture Park. For her it evoked George, and we are grateful to her for giving us the opportunity to bring this sculpture into the collection in his honor.

This painting represents several African American figures standing on the banks of a body of water. They are watching three figures standing in the water, two men baptizing a woman wearing white. The water appears to ripple outward from this group of three figures, and there is a staff or stick emerging from the water to the right of the group. The background of the painting is heavily wooded, and there is a tree represented on the banks behind the group of figures in the water.
Alexander Grinager (1865–1949), Deep Water Baptism, Alabama, about 1910, oil on canvas; Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the
Birmingham Museum of Art; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Crawford L. Taylor, Jr. in memory of Lona Thomas (Mrs. Millard), AFI.85.2018

Longtime patrons Marlene and Crawford Taylor gave the Museum a rare canvas by painter Alexander Grinager at the end of 2018. Grinager was born in Minnesota and studied in Philadelphia, Copenhagen, and Paris in his early years. While living in Europe, he was influenced by the work of the French Impressionists, which shapes his treatment of light and color in the Taylors’ gift, Deep Water Baptism, Alabama. Following his training in Europe, Grinager worked as an artist in Minnesota and New York. He may have come to paint this rare Alabama subject while visiting his wife’s family in the state. The Taylors’ gift was made in honor of Lona Thomas Millard, who lovingly cared for Crawford as a child. This painting will soon hang in the American galleries alongside other canvases the Taylors have generously given to the Museum collection, including Theodore Earl Butler’s Flags and Raphaelle Peale’s Margaret George McGlathery.

Demetrius Oliver, American, born Brooklyn, New York 1975; lives and works in New York, New York, Seminole, 2004, digital C-print; Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Gift of the Jack and Rebecca Drake Collection, AFI.93.2018, © Demetrius Oliver, courtesy Inman Gallery, Houston

The Museum’s contemporary collection has been strengthened recently by three works gifted by Jack and Rebecca Drake, some of Birmingham’s most formidable collectors. Two of the three works, Seminole and Hearth, are by artist Demetrius Oliver, an incredibly important contemporary artist whose practice spans photography, sculpture, and video. Seminole and Hearth join Oliver’s photograph Tracks in the Museum’s permanent collection.

The third work is by an exciting emerging artist, Arngunnur Ýr, who was born in Iceland and now splits her time between Iceland and Oakland, California. Her work is inspired by nature and this painting is of a location in southeast Iceland that is experiencing tremendous change due to the current environmental crisis. Ýr sees her process as akin to geology; her stratified landscapes are the result of over 100 coats of paint that are sometimes partially removed, mimicking the buildup and erosion of land.

We are grateful to all of our patrons and thank our donors for their continued generosity and support. If you are interested in contributing to the Museum’s collection, please contact Director of Development Kate Tully Delgreco at kdelgreco@artsbma.org.