After much deliberation, it’s impossible for me to say which of the indoor wall-sized murals on display at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture (VMHC) is my absolute favorite.
Over the past eight months, ten Virginia artists have transformed the walls of the second-floor Virginia Sargeant Reynolds Gallery into a unique invitation to families to embrace and explore Virginia’s history.
Inspired by the museum’s 9-million-item collection, Fresh Paint: Murals Inspired by the Story of Virginia features original works from muralists who sought to blend the present and the past with depth and artistic grace. They have succeeded!
While some of the artists mentioned the inspiration they found in large-format paintings on display at the VMHC, others spent time with the written word in the museum’s archives. Richmond favorite Hamilton Glass looked to the museum’s letters and documents regarding the U.S. Colored Troops for “Bound,” his powerful and important mural. Austin Miles, a VCU Arts alum, tapped into the power of education for her mural, “By Any Means.” During a panel discussion with the artists, Austin’s face illuminated as she told the audience about a school roster she discovered in the VMHC collections. Hungry for knowledge after the Civil War, previously enslaved people enrolled in Chimborazo School in Church Hill. Their numbers increased every semester.
Some of the VMHC artifacts the artists chose for inspiration included a WWI uniform, a hat worn at the 2017 Women’s March, a photograph of social reformer Janie Porter Barrett, a rare, early automobile made in Virginia, and a sword recovered from a Civil War battlefield near Petersburg. My husband’s favorite correlation (though not necessarily his favorite artwork) was the moonshine still and the mural created by Ed Trask, “Still Relevant.”
Altogether, these murals are powerful, innovative, energetic, colorful, and important – and you should take your family to see them! If the murals weren’t enough, there’s also a short-ish and well-crafted film at the entrance to the exhibit (with a bench where Grandma can rest for a minute) and an interactive art station that will appeal to toddlers, teens – and yes, adults.
As an arts and history lover and as a parent, I’m putting Fresh Paint at the VMHC at the top of my list for things to see and do with visiting family and friends this holiday season. And now, I will admit that my favorite mural just might be “By Any Means,” but I’m only showing a part of it here because you need to see the whole piece to truly appreciate it.
Fresh Paint: Murals Inspired by the Story of Virginia will be on display through April 21, 2019, at the VMHC. Admission to Fresh Paint is free for members or included with VMHC admission. Visit virginiahistory.org.
Now might be a good time to look into a family membership at the VMHC. For details, go here.