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Commentary: Small art museums near St. Louis have much to offer


I just returned from the Sheldon Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana where I saw a wonderful small show titled, "Curious Vessels" by St. Louis’s own Melody Evans. She has received numerous awards in her career including first place in the National Visions in Clay. Her works which also include prints have been shown in numerous museums throughout the country. It's well worth the short drive, but the small museum itself is a gem.

The Swope Museum collects, preserves and celebrates the best in American art with programs and exhibitions designed to engage, stimulate and educate those whose lives it touches. It enhances the culture and contributes to the economic development of the greater Wabash Valley.

The museum focuses on American regionalism and consists of works by Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, Edward Hopper, Charles Burchfield and more modern works by Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder and Robert Motherwell.

During Covid, we started concentrating on road trips and realized that there are lots and lots of these small art museum gems. Here are just a few.

Across the river in Godfrey, Illinois the Lewis and Clark College has long been a hub for cultural activity in the Riverbend. The college hosts annual art exhibitions featuring students’ and faculty work, and has curated guest exhibits over the years for renowned artists such as Ed Paschke, Dale Threlkeld and Joe Emons. A few pieces from those shows remain permanent fixtures on the campus.

The Monticello Sculpture Gardens on the Lewis and Clark campus feature permanent sculptures by artists Peter Voulkos, Richard Hunt, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Joel Perlman, Ruth Duckworth and Stephen DeStaebler to name just a few. The works are featured within and around the incredible gardens. The Monticello Sculpture Gardens are a signature garden of the Missouri Botanical Garden. This is the Missouri Botanical Garden’s only signature garden out of the state.

And in Mt. Vernon, Illinois is the Mitchell Museum on the campus of the Cedarhurst Art Center which has made Mt. Vernon one of the most remarkable small towns in the United States. The collection was formed in the 1940s and 1950s by Eleanor and John R. Mitchell, a prosperous Mt. Vernon couple, who acquired major works by Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt, Childe Hassam, John Singer Sargent, George Bellows, Robert Henri, William Glackens and others. These artists are now recognized as some of the most crucial figures in the development of American painting.

The most exceptional paintings in the permanent collection are by artists who trained in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century but who remained deeply committed to the values and beliefs central to the American experience as they knew it.

And right across the Mississippi in Belleville, Illinois is the William and Florence Schimidt Center for the Arts on the campus of Southwestern Illinois College. The permanent collection at the center consists of over 900 works--sculptures, paintings, photographs, lithographs and more. Works by Salvdore Dali, Ansel Adams and Robert Motherwell are in this fantastic collection. There is also a very nice sculpture garden included in the center.

I recently went to see the works of Edo Rosenblith and Janie Stamm whose works were on view at the Schmidt.

Edo Rosenblith was born in Tel Aviv, Israel and has exhibited all over the world. He currently lives in St. Louis. Rosenblith is a compulsive draughtsman and works in various mediums including murals, prints, paintings, drawings and book arts. He implements a cartoon vernacular while reinventing personal and historical narratives.

Janie Stamm was born and raised on the edge of the Everglades in Broward County, Florida. She resides on the western banks of the Mississippi River in St. Louis. Her work focuses on preserving Florida's environmental and queer history in the face of climate change. She uses a craft-based practice to tell these stories.

We recently went a little farther in to Indiana to Indianapolis and saw the unique Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. This special museum has an extensive collection of visual arts by indigenous peoples of the Americas as well as Western American paintings and sculptures collected by businessman and philanthropist Harrison Eiteljorg (1903-1997). The museum houses one of the finest collections of Native contemporary art in the world.

In the museum are works by Charles Russell, Albert Bierstadt, Joseph Henry Sharp and Georgia O'Keefe, just to name a few. In 2005, the museum opened an extensive expansion that doubled the public space of the museum and includes works by Andy Warhol, T.C. Cannon, Kay Walkingstick and many more. In the expansion is also the Gund Gallery of Western Art. This gallery is dedicated to the 37-piece collection of traditional Western art donated to the museum by the George Gund Family.

Of course, one doesn't have to leave St. Louis to see one of the many small art museums all over town, but that's an entire topic in and of itself.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than forty years on numerous arts related boards.

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