Morris Museum makes room for massive collection

With next year only a flip of the calendar page away, it comes to mind that 2012 will mark the 20th anniversary of the Morris Museum of Art and Kevin Grogan’s 10th anniversary as its director.


Twenty years ago, it was thought that the museum’s home in the Augusta Riverfront Center would be temporary. But there was no crystal ball to predict the economic stresses that would keep it housed there indefinitely. Under Grogan’s leadership, the museum’s permanent collection has grown tremendously. As with most museums, only a fraction of the permanent collection can be shown at one time, but Grogan and his staff have worked creatively to open up every possible space for the display of art.

By relocating the Ida Kohlmeyer contemporary sculpture Rebus 92-3 to the contemporary art corridor, they opened up additional space and gave that long gallery a focal point. The brightly colored piece now commands the center space, framed by the floor-to-ceiling arched window. At nearly 8 feet tall and more than 4 feet wide, it is easily visible from the parking lot below, signaling that there is more to the building than office space.

Decorative stone urns have been moved away from the west lobby area, freeing up space for temporary exhibits of three-dimensional works. Kath Girdler Engler’s sculptural pieces are on display there through Jan. 8, to be followed by a dozen examples of Edgefield pottery from the Ferrell Collection.

Over the years, a narrow room behind the Coggins Gallery evolved into storage space for the museum store inventory. It also housed the monumental Robert Rauschenberg image, which is too big to store anywhere else. The Rauschenberg now has a permanent home on the first floor, anchoring the inner foyer and facing what was once an office but is now an education gallery, host to temporary exhibits of works by local art faculty and students.

Creating a permanent installation for the Rauschenberg piece allowed the staff to enlarge the museum store and eliminate two interior doors, thereby giving the Coggins Gallery the longest continuous display wall in the museum. Through mid-January that space is filled with 35 images by some of the South’s most important photographers: John Baeder, William Christenberry, William Eggleston, Birney Imes, Greg Kinney and others.

You’ll also find changing art exhibits in the stairwell leading from the first floor lobby to the second. Newly installed in that space is a selection of works by members of the Murphy family of Savannah, Ga. Christopher P.H. Murphy, his wife, Lucile Desbouillons Murphy, and two of their seven children – Christopher A.D. Murphy (known as Christopher Murphy Jr.) and his sister Margaret – all were central figures in Savannah’s rich cultural life in the first half of the 20th century.

The Morris Museum owns more than 160 paintings and works on paper by members of the Murphy family, the largest collection in any institution. Given the wealth of material, this likely won’t be the last Murphy exhibit staged by the Morris.

Smaller shows aside, the main event at the Morris this month is Working South: Paintings and Sketches by Mary Whyte. The masterful watercolors are portraits of Southerners engaged in what the artist calls “under the radar” professions. From the textile mill worker and the tobacco farmer to the oyster shucker and the quilter, each of her subjects has been given the star treatment.

In addition to Whyte’s large-scale watercolors, there are smaller preliminary studies and sketches that serve to illustrate her working process. Art students will be interested in examining her technique – in particular the elements she chooses to depict in exquisite detail and those she merely suggests. The Morris is one of only five museums to host the exhibit by this noted Lowcountry-based artist.


AIKEN UPDATE: At the Aiken Center for the Arts, the featured exhibit by Elizabeth Moretz-Britt and Bea Kuhlke will continue through Dec. 29. It will be followed by the fifth annual juried exhibition, Aiken Retrospective: Yesterday and Today, to be staged Jan. 11-27 in the main galleries. Jennifer Onofrio Fornes, art professor at Augusta State University, is the juror for the show. Artists may submit no more than two works and the subjects must have some relationship to Aiken. For details, see www.aikencenterfor, or call (803) 641-9094.

Also, for those who missed out on Mary Whyte’s sold-out workshop at the Morris (or who want a second helping), the artist will conduct a three-day watercolor portrait workshop Feb. 16-18 at the Aiken Center for the Arts. Registration is required.


PAINTINGS BY Mike C. Berry and David Swanagin continue on exhibit in the art hall at Sacred Heart Cultural Center through Dec. 31.


AT FIRE HOUSE Gallery in Louisville, Ga., brothers Eric O’Dell and Brian O’Dell are featured in a show titled Forces at Play, on exhibit through Jan. 15, except for the gallery’s holiday closing Dec. 23-Jan. 2. Watch the artists in a video on the gallery’s Web site at


ARTFUL GIVING: While you’re visiting exhibits in our area, check out the unique gifts available in art galleries and museum shops. Many local galleries showcase smaller, affordable works of art and handcrafted items especially for holiday shoppers.



Pop Rocks: Augusta, my Christmas wish list has one thing

My family often accuses me of being a difficult person to Christmas shop for. While it is true that my tastes run toward the particular and tend to lean heavily on easy-to-wrap standards such as books and records, I believe that as I get older, I’m less concerned with the item than the idea. Give me something I believe you have thought about and carefully considered, and I’m happy. The present clearly purchased at the drug store the day before is met with considerably less enthusiasm.

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