There’s More to Huntsville than U.S. Space Missions

The high-tech city of Huntsville, which sprawls at the foot of a mountain in North Alabama, is mostly known by its nickname Rocket City. Huntsville has been important in developing space technology since the 1950s, but, as I discovered recently during the TBEX (Travel Blogger Exchange) convention, there is more to Huntsville than U.S. space missions.Huntsville is home to Alabama’s leading visual arts center, the Huntsville Museum of Art. The museum welcomes traveling exhibits and is the home of a permanent collection that includes more than 3,000 objects that also form the basis for several exhibitions each year. The permanent collection primarily focuses on 19th and 20th century American art with an emphasis on art from the Southeast. American artists with Alabama ties include Richmond Burton, William Christenberry, Gerald Hayes, Nall Hollis, David Parrish, and Stephen Rolfe Powell.I loved discovering the exquisite silver creations designed and fabricated in Italy by the luxury jewelry firm of Buccellati. The Huntsville Museum of Art can claim to have the world’s largest public collection of these unique works of art. Buccellati: A Silver Menagerie is an absolute must-see when visiting the museum.The present house of Buccellati was founded in 1919 in Milan, Italy, and originated what is known as the Buccellati style, which combines Renaissance period techniques, luxury materials, and the extensive use of texture engraving to create objects of great beauty. This distinctive style won favor with a discriminating international clientele, including the Vatican, as well as the Royal Houses of Italy, Spain, Belgium, England, and Egypt.Gianmaria Buccellati carries on the family tradition today as an internationally renowned silversmith. He has dedicated his life to creating extraordinary objects that exemplify fine Italian craftsmanship. His highly realistic silver animals are replicates from earth, sea, and sky. Buccellati invented a new method of working in silver to capture fine detail like feathers, hair, or different types of skin, known as “lavorazione a pelo” or “hair-like workmanship.” One must see the artwork to realize the craftsmanship and level of skill required to produce such masterpieces.

Three galleries in the Davidson Wing provide the museum a showcase for its outstanding holding of American Studio Glass. The Collection encompasses a wide range of different techniques, including blowing, flame working, casting, and carving. Also included are works combining glass with other materials such as wood, rope, paint, gold and silver leaf, and manipulated imagery.The Ponchin Legacy is an exhibit from the museum’s permanent collection that pays homage to the creative work of two generations of acclaimed artists from the south of France—Antoine Ponchin (1872-1933) and his son, Jos. Henri Ponchin (1897-1981).Highlights of the exhibition include a dramatic rendering of Les Baux in the South of France, a view of the entrance to the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, scenes of quaint cities and towns in Provence, and paintings inspired by travels to exotic locales in North Africa.

My favorite temporary exhibit, Encounters, was showcasing the surrealistic paintings of celebrated Memphis artist Beth Edwards. Enlarged flowers and animated landscapes from the viewpoint of a still life painter left a lasting impression.Edwards has been particularly fascinated by the way in which certain toys exemplify both the animate and inanimate spheres of existence, and it sure shows in her work.Our Living Past: A Platinum Portrait of Music Maker focuses on the work of photographer Tim Duffy who has immortalized Southern musical heroes and the world in which they live—not only through the photographs he takes, but also through his Music Maker Relief Foundation, which promotes and supports the enduring tradition of Southern roots music.Our Living Past celebrates the distinctive sounds of Southern roots music through 25 iconic images of living blues, gospel, soul, and bluegrass musicians. Duffy’s images of artists like Freeman Vines, Taj Mahal, Ironing Board Sam, Lena Mae Perry, John Dee Holeman, and Huntsville’s own Ardie Dean capture a sense of timelessness that is appropriate to the subjects.
Duffy’s images are supplemented by a hand-selected array of related materials, including musical instruments and ephemera directly tied to the artists on view. These include Captain Luke’s painted guitar case, Ironing Board Sam’s gold keyboard, Dom Flemons’s rhythm bones, and Ardie Dean’s hand-decorated suit.The museum also offers art classes for children and adults along with special programs, lectures, and musical performances. I absolutely loved the children’s section of the museum, which, in addition to all kinds of interactive stations, has an amazing walk-through exhibit teaching the history of art.The Huntsville Museum of Art is open Tuesday through Sunday. The museum is closed on Mondays and on major holidays. Admission: $10 adults, $5 students and children ages 6-11. Seniors 60+, educators, and members of the armed forces pay $8. For more information, check out the website of the museum.