Home Is Where the Art Is: See the Places That Shaped Artists like Sally Mann and Romare Bearden

High Museum of Art
Oct 30 · 4 min read

There’s something about home that sticks with us and shows up in the things we create, and that’s evident in plenty of artworks at the High Museum.

By Katie Domurat, Coordinator of Museum Interpretation, High Museum of Art

A collage work by Romare Bearden featuring a man walking down stairs leading into a room with people seated at a table.
A collage work by Romare Bearden featuring a man walking down stairs leading into a room with people seated at a table.
Detail of Romare Bearden, Pittsburgh Memories, Mill Hand’s Lunch Bucket, 1978. Cincinnati Art Museum, museum purchase, the Edwin and Virginia Irwin Memorial and the John J. Emery Endowment

Several of the incredible exhibitions at the High Museum of Art this fall have underlying themes about the importance of place or home. From Romare Bearden depicting the different cities where he grew up to Sally Mann documenting her scenic Virginia homeplace, many artists we’re showcasing tell stories of how the places where they’ve lived have shaped their artistic journeys.

The first show in the High’s fall lineup, “Something Over Something Else”: Romare Bearden’s Profile Series, is on view through February 2, 2020. Romare Bearden was born in 1911 in Charlotte, North Carolina. He documented his childhood growing up in Mecklenburg County in Part I of his Profile series. For Part II, he shifted to his young adult life in Harlem, New York. This autobiographical series of collages depicts memories that influenced both Bearden’s art and life.

Collage artwork by Romare Bearden featuring black men and women working in the cotton fields as a red sun sets behind a hill.
Collage artwork by Romare Bearden featuring black men and women working in the cotton fields as a red sun sets behind a hill.
Profile/Part I, The Twenties: Mecklenberg County, Liza in High Cotton, 1978, collage on board, courtesy of Karen and JP McBryde.

Liza in High Cotton shows a childhood scene when Bearden went to play with his friend Liza. As he approached Liza’s house, her grandmother told him that Liza couldn’t come out to play because it was high cotton and everyone was working in the fields. In this painting, Bearden reflects on the greenery of the fields and the hot sun setting behind the workers. The painting reflects what a fall afternoon in the South would have looked like in the early 1900s.

A sweet child clasps her hands together as she stands in a vast cotton field where she had to work.
A sweet child clasps her hands together as she stands in a vast cotton field where she had to work.
“Picking Cotton,” Mecklenburg County, ca. 1900–1910. Image: The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Story. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. Accessed 9/20/2019

An image from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library archives reinforces the accuracy of Bearden’s memory of children and adults working in the cotton fields in the early years of the twentieth century.

A group of people travel along a tree-lined river in a small boat.
A group of people travel along a tree-lined river in a small boat.
On the Maury, 1992, gelatin silver print, private collection. © Sally Mann.

Similarly, Sally Mann takes a close look at the South in her upcoming exhibition Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings, on view through February 2, 2020. Mann hails from Lexington, Virginia, in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, and her works often reflect on what it means to live in the South. Mann frequently connects her love of the South to her love of her family by inserting them in the rustic landscapes of rural Virginia.

For example, On the Maury shows the Mann family floating in a canoe on the Maury River, which runs by their family farm. This farm is the same one Mann grew up on herself, and it serves as a continuum in the Mann family history.

The property’s beauty drew Mann to this spot in both personal and creative endeavors, and she took many photos there for her Immediate Family series.

A young girl sits wrapped in a towel on a porch by a river.
A young girl sits wrapped in a towel on a porch by a river.
The Alligator’s Approach, 1988, gelatin silver print, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Gift of David M. Malcolm in memory of Peter T. Malcolm). © Sally Mann.

This personal history with Southwest Virginia strongly dictated what kind of art Mann would produce because place serves such a central role in her work.

The Maury, in particular, serves as a backdrop for many of Mann’s works, including The Alligator’s Approach. In this photo, one of her daughters naps peacefully against a folded-up lawn chair as the Maury flows behind her. Mann shows her love of this place by capturing the everyday moments she enjoys with her family.

A different approach to the importance of place in art can be seen in our exhibition Fine Lines: American Works on Paper, on view through March 22, 2020. Fine Lines showcases an array of works on paper that illustrate different facets of daily life in the nineteenth century. Drawing at this time was a medium of convenience, so American artists often made illustrations of their immediate surroundings. As a result, place played a significant role in their art.

A pencil drawing of dogs relaxing by a hearth and chair.
A pencil drawing of dogs relaxing by a hearth and chair.
Julian Alden Weir, Dogs at the Hearth, undated, pencil on paper, Gift of Paul G. Stein.

In this drawing, Julian Alden Weir depicts the interior of his home and shows his dogs relaxing around the hearth. Weir defines home in this scene as a cozy spot with pets by the fire. This seemingly mundane moment illustrates how this artist lived and also reflects on a personal moment.

A pencil and charcoal drawing of a river lined with smoke stacks and buildings.
A pencil and charcoal drawing of a river lined with smoke stacks and buildings.
Thomas Satterwhite Noble, Cincinnati from the Ohio River, 1877, pencil and charcoal on paper, Gift of Paul G. Stein.

Thomas Satterwhite Noble shares a depiction of his hometown in the drawing Cincinnati from the Ohio River. Noble felt great pride for his city and helped to co-found the Art Academy of Cincinnati. In this drawing, he illustrates his hometown’s industrious nature by showcasing smoke billowing from the factory smokestacks along the Ohio River. Noble found plenty of inspiration for his art in the views around his city.

Whether home means memories, a specific location, or a certain moment in time, these exhibitions at the High can take you there. Come experience how the idea of home manifests in different ways for different artists.

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The High is the Southeast’s leading art museum, bringing creativity to your everyday. Our collections, exhibitions, and programs are always here for you.

High Museum of Art

Stories from the High Museum of Art in Atlanta

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