Hale Woodruff murals on exhibition at Birmingham museum of art

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — From now until September 6, 2015 The Birmingham Museum of Art is presenting Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College, an incredible collection of murals by renowned African American artist Hale Woodruff.

The exhibition is organized by both Atlanta’s High Museum of Art and Talladega College in Alabama and features six massive murals – two are 20 feet wide — depicting historical events in the rise of blacks from slavery to freedom.

I was fortunate enough to speak with Graham C. Boettcher, Chief Curator and Curator of American Art at the Birmingham Museum of Art. When asked about the significance of the murals’ sizes, he said, “You walk in and you can’t ignore them; they are the elephants in the room in the best possible way.”

The murals were commissioned in 1938 to commemorate the founding of Talladega College in 1867 and to celebrate its success as one of the nation’s first all-black colleges. The murals have been on continuous view since their installation in the lobby of Savery Library in 1939 and 1942.

The murals are broken up into two sets of three. The Birmingham Museum of Art said in their press release, “The first set features The Mutiny On The Amistad, depicting the uprising on the West African slave ship La Amistad; The Trial of the Amistad Captives, detailing the court proceedings that followed the mutiny; and The Repatriation of the Freed Captives, portraying their subsequent freedom and return to Africa.

The companion murals ‒The Underground Railroad, The Building of Savery Library and Opening Day at Talladega College ‒ deal with the passage to freedom for slaves prior to the Civil War, and the educational opportunities afforded to freed slaves with the founding of Talladega College.”

Kelli Morgan, the Birmingham Museum of Art curatorial fellow of African American art, says, “[The murals] are just so strikingly vivid…being able to see them at eye-level allows me to identify in a particular way, not just as a historian but as a black woman. I love seeing my own history up close and personal.”

Morgan hopes that patrons can get a sense of the importance of the murals and what they mean to Alabama’s African American history. She says, “There are so many other rich aspects of Alabama history that exist outside of civil rights.”

Boettcher said, “This is an exhibition that’s free to the public…people will be very sorry if they let this opportunity pass by because it’s so unusual for something of this magnitude to land right in your own backyard.”

The exhibition will run from June 13-September 6, 2015.

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