November 1st, 2000
CONTACTS: John Cuthbert, Curator, 304-293-3536 ext. 313
Patrick Conner, Director, University Press, 304-293-3107 ext. 431
There will be a reception celebrating the launch of this new book at 5 p.m. Nov. 14 in WVU’s Elizabeth Moore Hall. We invite your coverage.
“Everything that has happened in American art through the years has also happened in West Virginia,” says Director of the West Virginia University Press and Centennial Professor of English Patrick Conner. “That’s why a new book, Early Art and Artists in West Virginia, a study of the state’s artistic heritage from its beginnings in the 19th century to the mid-20th century is important in helping West Virginia break down the myths about its culture and image.”
Quoting from the book’s foreword by U.S. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, a collector of West Virginia art, Dr. Conner notes that “Sophistication and elegance have long coexisted with the state’s celebrated mountain folk culture.”
WVU Curator John A. Cuthbert, author of the book, chose for the cover an oil on canvas portrait by Berkeley County artist William Robinson Leigh. The portrait of a white-clad woman in pastoral setting hangs in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. The back cover captures the oil on canvas Scene Near Grafton that hangs in the R. W. Norton Art Gallery in Shreveport, La. These are just two of the 280 full-color plates that accompany Cuthbert’s rich narrative about the development of portrait and landscape painting. The elegantly produced, hardcover book also includes a directory of nearly 1,000 artists who are a part of this history.
In the foreword, Rockefeller calls the book “groundbreaking” because it establishes a foundation for the history of art in West Virginia. He recalls receiving a “wonderful little painting” by Frederic Edwin Church, one of America’s greatest 19th century landscape painters, as a gift from his father when he first arrived in West Virginia. That such an eminent artist had a connection to the state sparked his curiosity, he notes, and he wanted to know more.
Cuthbert points out that, while many of the most important artists connected with West Virginia were visitors, a significant number were either born in the state or spent a part of their careers here.
Martinsburg’s David Hunter Strother was one of the best-known illustrative artists in America during and after the Civil War, and the Cincinnati-based landscapist William L. Sonntag devoted more than a decade to painting the state’s scenery.
Berkeley County’s Leigh gained fame as one of the nation’s leading artist interpreters of the Old West, and Monongalia County’s Blanche Lazzell became one of 20th century America’s modern art pioneers.
West Virginia has contributed great talents in all areas of artistic endeavor: in music, composer George Crumb and Metropolitan Opera greats Phyllis Curtin and Eleanor Steber; in literature, Rebecca Harding Davis, Melville Davisson Post, Pearl Buck, Davis Grubb and Jayne Anne Phillips. Early Art and Artists in West Virginia demonstrates that fine painting in the state rivals other artistic accomplishments, the author says.
Cuthbert’s point is that the history of fine arts in West Virginia closely parallels that of the development of American art nationally, but much more work remains in documenting this exciting legacy.
A reception to introduce the book and acknowledge the author will be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, at WVU’s Elizabeth Moore Hall.
The book is on sale for $85 through the WVU Bookstores and University Press; discounts are available. The entire catalog of WVU Press publications may be examined at www.as.wvu.edu/press. More information on the book as well as downloadable images for publication may be found at www.as.wvu.edu/press/releases/EarlyArt.
West Virginia University Press is part of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.