Now On View

Climbing Mountains

Unexpected and nearly invisible histories sometimes unite objects in the Birmingham Museum of Art’s collections.…

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Nov 02, 2021 - May 01, 2022

Unexpected and nearly invisible histories sometimes unite objects in the Birmingham Museum of Art’s collections. For two American artists, painting and mountain climbing were connected pursuits. Georgia Engelhard and Elaine Hamilton cultivated careers in alpine trekking even as they also worked as professional artists. For these women, painting a few decades apart in the mid-twentieth century, this connection is not only coincidence; it can also be read as a metaphor. Both women not only literally climbed mountains, they also climbed figurative mountains in the art world.

At a time when women artists often struggled to build professional careers—whether due to gender or race-based discrimination, familial responsibilities, limited opportunities, or other hurdles—Engelhard and Hamilton created professionally, exhibited, and found markets for their work. Despite the professional success Engelhard and Hamilton found in their lifetimes as both artists and mountaineers, their work is rarely seen in art collections and museums. Yet both belong on display at the BMA, showcasing their prowess as painters and their perspectives as trailblazers in alpine climbing.

This focus installation drawn from the Museum’s collection highlights the work of Engelhard and Hamilton. Here their work is paired with the work of five other women artists who ventured into the mountains, conceptually or physically, to create the pieces you see. While none of these women were alpine mountain climbers aside from Engelhard and Hamilton, each work conveys a point of view rooted in the mountains.

Image caption: Georgia S. Engelhard (American, 1906-1986). Church, about 1930, oil on canvas. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Harold and Regina Simon Fund, 2011.24