Within the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), museumgoers will find stunning art pieces throughout several galleries—many of which were selected by Mr. and Mrs. William Singer, Jr., who founded the museum, located at 401 Museum Drive, Hagerstown (MD), in 1931.
The most current MFA exhibit features renowned author and photographer Eudora Welty. Born, raised, and laid to rest in Jacksonville, Alabama, she is most well known for her writing, but her series of photographs taken in the early 1930s—titled ‘Southern Narratives’—depict the deep south in the depths of the Great Depression.
Museum curator, Daniel Fulco, recently offered a moving tour, and allowed for an even deeper understanding of each photo.
“She tries to get inside the mind of people living in Mississippi,” he explained
Direct and often poignant, these photos—which often served as the inspiration for her short stories—illustrate the life of the rural poor in the South and the effects of that traumatic period. The exhibit doesn’t necessarily focus on one race, but rather individuals experiencing the historical moment, and the struggle therein. Welty made it a point to look at people for who they were, which is beautifully evident throughout the entire exhibit.
“For Welty, each of these people told a story,” Fulco noted. “The photographs also relate to her style of writing, which has a mythological quality to it. It’s about relationships. She makes connections between the characters in her writing, and the individuals found here in her photographs.”
Welty traveled from one county to the next, searching for moments that were simple, yet impactful. Sometimes, subjects were aware of her taking the photographs, and other times, they weren’t—but each image remains perfectly unique.
“It’s about capturing the moment,” Fulco continued.
The presence captured allows for an authenticity that can’t be found in a paragraph of a history book. The detailed photos demand the observer’s attention—making them part of a challenging historical experience. Welty’s captured moments are essential records of people and places within the American narrative that endured great difficulty, but found a way to survive. As time inevitably creates more distance between such periods in history, exhibitions like this one at the MFA are essential for perspective—especially as this country addresses its own current challenges.
Welty gathered her images while on assignment with the Works Progress Administration. They were donated to the MFA—organized in partnership with the Knoxville Museum of Art.
Throughout her career, she received several honorary doctorates, and numerous awards, for writing in particular—including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the French Legion of Honor, and a Pulitzer Prize.
Additionally, the MFA looks forward to hosting award-winning journalist Jim Lehrer, on Sunday, September 17, from 2:30-3:30pm—as he presents “Remembering Eudora Welty.” Lehrer was a journalist during the civil rights movement, and became well known as a presidential debate moderator. He is now retired from PBS NewsHour, and spends time traveling as a lecturer.
The ‘Eudora Welty: Southern Narratives’ exhibit will run through October 22. For more information on the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, and to get tickets for the Jim Lehrer lecture (they will sell out), visit www.wcmfa.org.