Morris Museum Celebrates Southern Heritage
By Gary Kauffman
If you want to know anything about Southern art or artists, you don’t have to travel farther than downtown Augusta.
The Morris Museum of Art at 1 10th St., along the Savannah River, is the only museum with a mission to exhibit the art and artists of the American South, or those who studied in the South or who were from the South.
“It’s a broad definition of a specific niche,” said Nicole McLeod, director of public relations and marketing for the museum. “We’re the first museum dedicated to the art and artists of the South. We’re preserving the Southern culture in all its forms throughout the region and beyond.”
The museum was founded in 1984 by William S. “Billy” Morris in memory of his parents. It opened its doors to the public in 1992.
Because of its broad definition of art relating to the South, the museum features many different styles of art, from realism to abstract works. Halls within the museum feature such genres as Southern Landscapes, the Civil War, Southerners at Play, Southern Stories, portraits and still-lifes.
The permanent collection numbers more than 5,000 pieces, but less than 4 percent is on display. The collection continues to grow as artists and art collectors bequeath their works. The museum was recently bequeathed 20-30 works of an artist from St. Simons Island, Ga.
The museum also features temporary exhibits of works by various artists, such as the works of Robert Vickrey, who painted covers for Time magazine, most notably of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964. His works featuring sidewalk art and Catholic themes, painted with Renaissance-era egg tempera, will be on display until Aug. 12.
But the Morris Museum is far from a staid gallery where visitors simply observe art. The museum is an active place where children and adults can have hands-on experiences creating art, including programs for schoolchildren and Artrageous Family Sundays. June’s Artrageous Sunday will feature a presentation by the Riverbanks Zoo and a project to create animal puppets.
The activities are not confined within the museum’s walls. The Morris staff takes art and art activities to such places as the VA Medical Center, Fort Gordon, the Children’s Hospital of Georgia, the Kroc Center and the Boys and Girls Club. It also sponsors activities for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers.
Art education is also important, through such programs as Art at Lunch and exhibit openings with artists or art historians.
Music is also part of the museum’s offerings, with the monthly Music at the Morris series and the annual Southern Soul and Song concert series that presents music with Southern roots, from blues to bluegrass.
There are also special tours to visit museums in other cities — this year it’s a trip to Chicago — and special trips to local venues, such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Auldbrass plantation in Yemassee, S.C.
And for those willing to take a longer lunch break, the museum also features a brown bag lunch movie series on the first Friday of the month showing films with Southern themes, such as Inherit the Wind and The Little Foxes.
The museum also has meeting rooms for rent, which can include museum tours. When the Georgia Cyber Center held a groundbreaking next door, the reception took place in one of those rooms, drawing a number of positive comments about the quality of the museum’s exhibits.
McLeod believes there’s a good reason their offerings are so varied.
“Art is really integral in our society as a whole because art is everywhere,” she said. “It’s in restaurants or in the way a cocktail is mixed, it’s in the architecture of our homes or in the design of cars. All of it is art.”
The museum plays a potentially big role in the local economy as well. Many businesses looking to locate in the Augusta area are concerned about quality of life, which includes cultural institutions such as the Morris. McLeod said that when Starbucks considered moving here, the museum was a factor in the company deciding to build a plant in south Augusta.
“Quality of life and the cultural aspects of it were very important to them,” she said.
She said all cultural events, such as the museum, entertainment venues and festivals like Arts in the Heart of Augusta and Westobou bring people who spend money to the city.
“When the community supports those events, we thrive,” McLeod said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”
McLeod said the museum can be a source of pride for local residents.
“So many people, once they come here, they love it,” she said. “We want people to experience it and come back. It’s really their museum. It’s about them.”
The Morris Museum of Art is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.