Art of the New South

(Click image to purchase from Amazon)

You can curl up and read Art of the New South: Women Artists of Birmingham, 1890-1930 like a good novel. The 204-page telling of the stories behind eight memorable artists details not only the cultural scene emerging with the founding of Birmingham, but also depicts each woman’s personal expression and journey to her art.

The book, produced by the Birmingham Historical Society, starts with the story of Caroline Lovell, a bright, innovative pioneer, known for staging tableaux vivant (paintings come to life by players in costume). Having studied in New York, she returned to the newly formed Birmingham to paint watercolors and miniatures, and to lead the young city’s social scene.

You also read about the adventurous Lucille Douglass. “She must’ve been an extraordinary extrovert,” says Marjorie White, Birmingham Historical Society Director. “She traveled to Europe, became an etcher, went on an international lecture circuit, and left her legacy, a collection of her finest art, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The words, told by writer Vickie Ingham, go on to cover accounts of Lucille’s journeys to China and Cambodia, where she illustrated travel books and depicted ancient ruins.

Each woman emerges a personality–and a shaper of the growing Birmingham and its arts identity. As members of the Birmingham Art Club (established in 1907 by Della Dryer and others), the painters deftly rendered their works, traveled widely to study at noted academies, shared their learnings back home, and generally instilled in locals (and beyond) a dignity of art as a calling for female achievers. “Born in the years following the Civil War–when women were expected to follow traditional paths–these were professional artists,” says White. “They were not dilettantes–most did not marry and spent a lifetime as successful artists.”

In all, Art of the New South tells of Birmingham’s Carrie Hill, Lucille Douglass, Alice Rumph, Della Dryer, Hannah Elliott, Caroline Lovell, Carrie Montgomery, and Willie McLaughlin. “Except for archival records and family collections, little is known of these women today,” continues White. “We pieced together their lives from the available material and watched as a portrait of early Birmingham and eight incredible women took shape.”

Putting the Past to Use for the Future