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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch

In this issue:

Regional Museums

The Mint Museums in Charlotte, NC house a first-rate collection of pottery and porcelain from the 17th through 19th centuries, and a variety of exhibits including Fashions of the Crinoline Era, a selection of garments and accessories that look like something straight out of Gone With The Wind.


Sandra Smith admits that chemistry between Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore makes Laws of Attraction watchable, but that doesn't qualify it as a rival to Adam's Rib.

And Consider This

Jody Bush reviews Love by Toni Morrison, a deliciously crafted, magnificent, accessible novel which delves into the capriciousness of power.

Julia Sneden alerts us that The Life of Pi is a study of the human spirit and the measures that must be taken to keep the spirit alive, the psyche intact. She also says the final chapter is a stunner.


Charlotte, NC
The Mint Museum of Art
The Mint Museum of Craft & Design

Not many people outside of North Carolina know that until the California Gold Rush, North Carolina was the major gold producing area in the United States. From 1790 until 1830, Carolina gold was shipped to a private mint in Rutherfordton, NC, or to the US Mint in Philadelphia. Eventually, Congress funded the first branch of the mint in Philadelphia, which was built and went into operation in Charlotte, NC.

The original building stood in downtown Charlotte. It opened in 1837, and generated over $5,000,000,000 in Half Eagles ($5), Quarter Eagles ($2.50) and One Dollar coins.

At the start of the Civil War, the Charlotte Mint was commandeered by the Confederacy, and coinage stopped. For the next few years it was used as a hospital and army headquarters. Following the war, it became an assay office, and local organizations were allowed to meet there. In 1933, a group of preservationists purchased the building for $950. It was carefully dismantled and reconstructed in a park that was then just south of the city (and has since been surrounded by the megalopolis), and in 1936 it opened as the Mint Museum of Art, the first art museum in North Carolina.

North Carolina has a long tradition of artists who produce wonderful crafts, and eventually the Mint recognized that it needed more space and a separate entity to do justice to patrons whose primary interest was in the crafts. In 1999, the Mint Museum of Craft and Design opened in a former department store building in downtown Charlotte. Today the two museums work in tandem (in fact if you visit one and intend to visit the other on the same day, save your receipt, because admission to the second will be free).

The Museum of Art has twice added on to the original Mint building, but even so it is a cozy space, or rather a series of cozy spaces. The galleries tend to be small and intimate, and the collections are nothing if not eclectic.

There is a first-rate collection of pottery and porcelain from the 17th through 19th centuries, including items of English, American, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, Belgian, Chinese and Japanese manufacture. These are nicely displayed with excellent signage in the Delhom Gallery. Another small gallery, the Bridges Gallery, has a charming selection of North Carolina pottery.

During the past year, the museum has also featured Fashions of the Crinoline Era, 1840-1860s, a small selection of crinoline garments and accessories from the museum’s own collection that look like something straight out of Gone With The Wind.

One of the largest galleries holds a collection titled The Arts of Ancient America, an astonishing display of objects in stone, wood, terra cotta, fabric, paint and metal. The territory covered stretches from the Southwestern United States to Peru. What most struck this observer was the richness of color in every room: reds, rusts, blacks, whites, even purples and greens have withstood time with little fading. There are too many wonderful things to take in during one walk through; it’s a collection that one must revisit. Among other notable items were an Olmec stone bowl of the Pre-Classic period (2500BC-500AD), an utterly simple flat-bottomed, perfectly circular vessel that seems somehow magnificent; a tunic from the Central Coast of Peru, c. 1300-1500, that looks like a particularly intricate patchwork quilt, but is actually woven as a continuous cloth with alternating symbols of mountain and sea in small squares; a Quipucamacos, a record-keeping device made from a series of knots and strings, carefully laid out and framed.

All the pre-Columbian artifacts lead into a gallery featuring paintings and painted statues of the Spanish Colonial era, 1587 through the 18th century. Religious art predominates, as the Spanish used images to help in their efforts to convert South American Indians to Christianity. For some reason, a painting entitled Madonna and Child with Four Saints by Ghirlandaio is a part of this exhibit. I asked the attendant why it was included, since Ghirlandaio died in 1494 – just two years after Columbus’ first voyage - and certainly never traveled to South America (although his painting may have). Unfortunately, she didn’t have an answer.

Other galleries display prints, photographs, and some African art. There are also galleries that hold some large modern paintings, a couple of sculptural objects, a nice little collection of the paintings of Romare Bearden, and several artists spanning the 18th to 20th centuries, artists like Thomas Cole, Rembrandt Peale, Gilbert Stuart, Benjamin West and Andrew Wyeth. There are two large copies of the coronation portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte by Allan Ramsay, several of which were sent to the colonies in the 1760’s to stir up patriotism and tamp down the hotheads who wanted independence – a failed 18th century PR effort.
In addition to its permanent collection, the Mint has, in the past year, had many traveling exhibits:

And next fall, it will host Andrew Wyeth: The Helga Pictures, organized by International Arts and Artists. If you intend to visit the Mint, do check out their website first. It is well laid-out, with good directions on how to get there.

The Mint Museum of Craft and Design is full of delightful objects from countries all over the world. The Gorelik Gallery alone exhibits craft items from America, South Africa, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Britain, Ukraine, Italy and various Native American tribes. The gallery is entered around an enormous (12’ by 12’) cast glass wall, and it is full of treasures like Emilo Santini’s Variations on a Venetian Theme, a collection of exquisite lamp worked glass vases that are slender and delicate, seeming almost to float on openwork bases, or the cuff bracelet with the face of the Dalai Lama done in beadwork by Native American Marcus Ameran. Fine jewelry is also included in this gallery, as are furniture and pottery.

The Duke Energy Gallery features North Carolina pottery as well as objects from Japan, Norway, Italy, Germany and Sweden. There is a graceful blue blown and sandblasted glass piece by Preston Singletary, a Tinglit Indian, as well as items from the Hopi, Navaho, Cochiti, Crow, Zuni and Acoma peoples. A fascinating half-round ebony desk by Jere Osgood has a swivel top that pulls in from two sides, so that when it’s closed it resembles nothing so much as a gigantic half cake stand complete with dome.

During the past year, the museum has had traveling exhibits of quilts, photography, jewelry, and glass sculpture. The traveling exhibits that were open when I visited were both quite wonderful:

The Artful Teapot: 20th Century Expressions from the Kamm Collection showcased 250 teapots, drawings, photographs and prints. The display offered just about every kind of teapot you can imagine and some you can’t. In addition to all the traditional ceramic, porcelain, or silver tea sets, there were teapots made of wire, aluminum, wire mesh, glass, twigs, string, wood, an oil can, boxes of tea, pewter, egg shells, a coconut, copper, etc.

As Kasimir Malevich, the founder of the non-objective art movement called Suprematism said in another setting, “It is not a teapot, but the idea of a teapot.” This delightful exhibit offered teapots with legs and on wheels; teapots on stilts; in the shape of tanks, cars, T-E-A (each hollow ceramic letter had a spout), an ampersand, Pinkie & Blueboy, Mr. Potato Head, Teddy Roosevelt, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, a Kentucky Fried Chicken container, Marilyn Monroe, a gargoyle, every kind of animal from dogs and cats to an armadillo and a porcupine, birds, mythical beasts, and one called “The Aesthetic Teapot” which had a male face on one side and a female on the other, with a quote from Oscar Wilde around the base.

Michael Cohen, in tribute to René Magritte’s painting, Ceci n’est pas un pipe, created a teapot in the shape of a Meerschaum. There was a gray-green female pseudo-Roman statue by Michael Lucero that had a brilliant orange teapot head (her left arm was also orange, the base to the pot). Glass artist Dan Gilhooly created a riotous affair titled Oreo and Frog, with lots of both erupting from the lid. There was a stainless steel and plastic pot that had a long cord to plug into the cigarette lighter of a car. My own favorite was a teapot tower by Michael McMillen, a Rube Goldberg, Escher-esque affair that stood a good five feet tall.

After the fun of the teapots, I was ill-prepared for the absolutely exquisite The Art of Gold, a program organized by ExhibitsUSA. Showcasing just 79 works, the exhibit focuses on contemporary gold craftsmanship and design. Piece after piece of incredibly delicate and beautiful jewelry kept me spellbound for so long that I missed a luncheon date and had to tear myself away, barely in time to avoid the heavy commute traffic that always engulfs Charlotte.

Given the choice between the two museums, I would definitely opt for the Mint Museum of Craft and Design, but both are small enough to “do” in a single day, and the Mint Museum of Art is well-worth a visit, too.


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