November 2 is All Souls Day. In many countries people go to cemeteries on this day, not only to visit the graves of relatives, but to tidy them up, leave flowers, reminisce. Some leave food and other items as gifts or even have a picnic.
A sweet William Christenberry photograph, Grave with Silver Trim, Hale County, Alabama (1982) is currently on display on the second floor of the museum’s Sant building. Someone cares for the small grave in his picture; there are plastic flowers thoughtfully arranged. There don’t seem to be any other graves nearby, making this one look isolated and lonely. Silver painted concrete edging indicates that it is a small grave, perhaps for a child, while the dusty red earth bleached almost pink and the faded flowers give a feminine, little-girlish quality. This is no casual snapshot–the rectangle of the grave is carefully composed within the photographic space.
There is a poignant quality to this photograph, very similar to Albert Pinkham Ryder’s Dead Bird (1890s). A small dead bird was the traditional Victorian symbol for a deceased child–small, innocent, its song stilled.
Ianthe Gergel, Museum Assistant
We posted earlier this week about a group of contemporary photographs now on view outside the Rothko Room. The presentation includes nine artists, including William Christenberry who is based in D.C. and has a show up through Oct. 27 at Hemphill Fine Arts. While the installation is focused on photography, Curator Elsa Smithgall saw an opportunity to set up dialogues between photography, painting, and sculpture and chose to include examples of Christenberry’s work in all three media. In addition to his soulful photographic landscapes of the South, you will discover exquisite ink paintings on sandpaper and a bold Southern Monument sculpture.