From Lee Krasner’s “Birth” painting to the “Famous Last Words: Death of a Poet” painting by Robert Colescott, the latest exhibit set to open to the public July 20 at Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem covers all stages of life.
“The Voyage of Life: Art, Allegory and Community Response” starts with two river paintings because the exhibit uses the river as a metaphor for the natural ebbing and flowing of life. The introductory section features two paintings — “Mounts Adam and Eve” and “Niagara.”
“Mounts Adam and Eve” is an oil painting on canvas by Jasper Francis Cropsey. It was a gift to Reynolda House Museum of American Art by Barbara B. Millhouse. This painting represents a site near Cropsey’s home in upstate New York.
“A peaceful, winding river in the middle ground references the river as a metaphor or the voyage of life,” Reynolda House said in a statement.
Allison Slaby, curator for Reynolda House, said that “Adam and Eve” is a reference to Eden.
“It’s really about America as a kind of new Eden in the 19th century,” Slaby said.
She added that the brilliant autumn foliage in the painting would have been seen as a mark of God’s favor on the country.
“Niagara” is an oil painting on canvas by Albert Bierstadt that shows the Niagara River thundering over a steep precipice to form Niagara Falls. It was a gift to the Simmons Collection, Wake Forest University by Thomas Jackson Simmons.
The opening text of the “The Voyage of Life” exhibition states: “The river is the oldest and most universal metaphor for the passage of time. Seen from the bank, the river’s flow is an allegory for life’s never-ending changefulness; 25 centuries ago, the philosopher Heraclitus said, “No man steps into the same river twice.”
It is also an enduring metaphor for the voyage of life. Seen from the boat, the river’s changing course — now smooth and open, now rough and roiling — is an allegory for the individual voyage of life, carrying the traveler in time to the limitless, unknowable sea.”
In a press release, Reynolda House said, “The various stages of life explored in ‘The Voyage of Life’ include childhood; teenage years and young adulthood; relationships; work and play; community and tragedy; and aging/later years.”
Three centuries of American art are used to illuminate the chapters of every individual life. Other artists whose works are featured in the exhibition include Alice Neel, Kiki Smith, Fairfield Porter, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Romare Bearden and Grant Wood, alongside community stories.
Reynolda House said “‘The Voyage of Life’ explores how each person ‘plays in his or her time many parts,’ attaining awareness as children, striking out as individuals, embracing or avoiding change during adulthood, and learning new ways of being in old age.”
Community members of all ages have made correlations between the art featured in the exhibition and their own experience.
Reynolda House said that these observations will accompany curatorial descriptions as well as social and digital channels throughout the exhibition.
“We are extremely grateful for the chance to pause and reflect on humanity though the creation of a community-focused exhibition that connects us together through life experiences and the beauty of art,” Allison Perkins, executive director of Reynolda House, and Wake Forest University associate provost for Reynolda House and Reynolda Gardens, said.
The last section of the exhibition features Thomas Cole’s “Voyage of Life.” This artwork is a series of four paintings. “Voyage of Life: Childhood,” “Voyage of Life: Youth,” “Voyage of Life: Manhood,” and “Voyage of Life: Old Age.”
“The Voyage of Life: Art, Allegory and Community Response” exhibition has been curated by Phil Archer, deputy director of Reynolda House; Slaby; Jennifer Finkel, Acquavella Curator of Collections at Wake Forest University; and Andrew Gurstelle, academic director of Lam Museum of Anthropology at Wake Forest University.