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G.W. Morrison at 200

February 5 – April 10, 2021

Opening Friday, February 5th, 10 AM-6 PM

The Carnegie Center for Art and History, a department of the Floyd County Library, is pleased to announce the new exhibition G.W. Morrison at 200, featuring the work of George William Morrison (1820 – 1893), an early Indiana painter whose remarkable career centered in New Albany. December 22, 2020 marked the bicentennial of Morrison’s birth in Baltimore, Maryland and the Carnegie Center has undertaken an exhibition in his honor that will fill the museum’s front galleries. G.W. Morrison at 200 opens to the public on February 5, 2021 and will be on display until April 10, 2021. Carnegie Center staff member, Al Gorman, is the curator of the Morrison exhibition and the Carnegie Center’s Coordinator of Public Programs and Engagement.

After more than three years of planning, this special exhibition will go far in clarifying aspects of Morrison’s fifty-year career spent mostly in New Albany, Indiana. The museum’s Morrison Collection will be on full display along with newly discovered, donated, borrowed, and conserved artworks that will enlarge what we know about Morrison, his family, and artistic achievements.

The Floyd County Library through its museum, the Carnegie Center for Art and History, is the largest repository of this rare artist’s work. About a third of the known paintings by G.W. Morrison are cared for at the museum and previously undocumented works are joyously still being discovered. The G.W. Morrison at 200 exhibition will highlight several recent and important discoveries including artworks and other primary source materials relating to the Morrison family.

Coming to light are three early paintings from Connersville, Indiana that are game changers for the artist, who was known primarily as a portraitist. The Morrison family first settled and remained in Connersville and later G.W. moved to New Albany. Among the Connersville paintings are three unique to this artist, livestock paintings recalling America’s agricultural revolution that were commissioned by the Thornburgh Farm of Fayette County, Indiana.

Current Thornburgh Farm property owners, Rick and Patsy Slack, brought to the museum’s attention a pair of small, damaged Morrison paintings that were still on site since the late 1840’s! The paintings are portraits of a shorthorn bull and a prize boar that were important animals to this farm. Cheryl Johnson, a neighbor of the Slacks, found at a local Connersville auction another remarkable survivor that will surely become a beloved Morrison painting and an Indiana agricultural landscape masterpiece. This will be the first occasion that this painting, now restored and entitled Prize Livestock of Thornburgh Farm, Posey Township, Fayette County, IN, will be unveiled to the public. The painting features a small herd of cattle dominated by a magnificent blue-eyed bull and a winning red and white calf. Pigs are also in the foreground along with the cattle, and the animals gradually make way for a beautiful Indiana farmscape whose original house still stands.

These three new-to-the-public Connersville paintings have been donated to the Carnegie Center for Art and History’s permanent collection. The Carnegie Center thanks the Slacks and Ms. Johnson for their wonderful generosity. All three works have now been professionally conserved and restored by Terry Boyle of C.A.G. Inc. of Cincinnati, Ohio. Over the years, Mr. Boyle has been the principle conservator and restorer on over a dozen Morrison paintings in the Carnegie Center’s collection. The Floyd County Library would like to express its deepest thanks to Mr. and Mrs. David Reinhardt for partially funding the conservation and restoration of these historic and important Connersville paintings.

Other significant recent Morrison discoveries have come courtesy of the estate of the late Katherine Reynolds Sims of Birmingham, Alabama, who was G. W. Morrison’s great-granddaughter and the granddaughter of the artist’s daughter Mary. Mary Morrison, who also went by “Minnie”, was an exhibiting painter taught by her father. Mrs. Sims’ estate (she passed without heirs) is now part of the Garner Family Collection. The first of Mary’s paintings has been found, along with a previously undocumented, late portrait of her that her father G. W. Morrison painted late in his life, and both will be included in this exhibition.

Among the other Morrison prizes hidden from view in Alabama is a very rare and surviving sketchbook/scrapbook with dated works spanning 1845 – 1882. The contents of the sketchbook record distinct bursts of activity. The concentrated moments include formal atmospheric color and compositional analysis from the surrounding Floyd County hills, critiques of early American paintings, and documentation of at least one trip that Morrison made to Oak Lawn Manor in Franklin, Louisiana.

It was known that the Morrisons traveled to New Orleans and other destinations in Louisiana during the wintertime seeking patronage and commissions. Morrison’s sketches include surviving drawings made at what was once a large sugar plantation whose operation before the Civil War required over 400 enslaved individuals.  Other Garner Family Collection gems include original family photographs, deeds, wills, miscellaneous family bric-a-brac, and hand-drawn maps of Silver Hills.

This exhibition will be supported by loans of artwork from local collectors and the Filson Historical Society of Louisville, Kentucky will loan paintings from their esteemed collection. The Filson now has three Morrison paintings. One acquired last year, a large, double portrait of the Howard Boys, will make its first appearance among the other Morrisons. Overall, this will be one of the more significant George W. Morrison exhibitions to take place and a must-see for lovers of historic artworks.

Featured image: George W. Morrison, Prize Livestock of Thornburgh Farm, Posey Township, Fayette County, IN, c. 1850, framed oil on canvas. Collection of the Carnegie Center for Art and History, donated by Cheryl Johnson, conservation partially funded by Mr. and Mrs. David Reinhardt.

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