Art world elites in Chattanooga and Hamilton County gather Thursday evening at Hunter Museum to celebrate Christmas, enjoy finger food and drinks and chat among themselves about personal news and trends in the creative world.
About 175 people attend the event, wearing smart fashions, leaning their foreheads together over black cloth-covered tables that stay put in the gentle tides of visitors who sip from plastic cups and nibble on plates piled with meatballs, crackers and cheese slices.
By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 101.1 FM
“It’s a holiday party, so folks are dressed up. Absolutely,” executive director Virginia Anne Sharber says.
At one table stands Tom Griscom, a media consultant to UT and former Times Free Press newspaper editor. He spends at least 20 minutes chatting with Wes Hasden, a longtime newsprint chieftain who retired four years ago and whose wife, Nikki, wrote concert reviews.
Nearby, Mr. Griscom’s wife, Marion, chats up the latest with Hugh and Verbie Prevost, a UTC academic couple. She teaches Southern literature; he ran the international program for the state university.
Art guides, inside advice
Under a shifting light of the “Christmas Story” movie of BB gun fame playing on a screen nearby hunches a savvy art museum goer, a middle-age mom of 4 who takes advantage of Hunter Museum for homeschooling projects. I leave my wife, Jeannette, at table and wander off for coffee. She’s in a huddle with a professional couple from Highland Park, the wife with carefully purpled hair, the husband bearing a thin, grizzled look. They are gabbing over guidebooks for the 60ish couple’s coming trip to Venice and Florence. Jeannette promises to tell them which are the best guidebooks, as she has read and used them in her travels to those cities art museums. But they have to contact her later.
“It [is] our member holiday party, a way to thank our wonderful members for the support they give us each year,” says Mrs. Sharber. “Bringing in special exhibits We opened last Friday our special exhibit which features work of Varina Baxter, who is a Chattanooga native. ****. We’re also celebrating our upcoming exhibits. We’re celebrating the many different programs we have throughout the year — the 10,000 school children who’ve been able to come to the museum.”
Mrs. Sharber says “we actually have folks coming from all walks. Most of the people who are here are members. We’ve got all kinds of ages here. We’ve got young professional members who are part of our avant art group — they are here. We’ve got a couple of our upper-level members who support us at major levels. We have docents here who come and volunteer here.”
The staff’s eyes brighten on passing the big donors, who help feed the budget furnace with F$2.8 million a year. “We have to work hard for it. The members are certainly our lifeblood,” Mrs. Sharber says.
Baxter’s imaginings in steel
The museum is opening a Verina Baxter exhibit covering 20 years of work of the East Ridge resident who died two years ago at 65. The exhibit is in a great room that amplifies even the whispers of visitors.
On two stands at hip level arise metallic creations. On the wall is a note that says Mrs. Baxter “enjoyed working with both metal and stone and took great pains to precisely turn this works. She was particular about well just hand polishing the pieces so that marks from the artist’s hand are not visible. As she moved through her career, Baxter’s pieces move further away from figurative forms and became simpler and more abstract.”
“This presentation *** has a machine aesthetic, stripped of all extraneous details, each work an embodiment of a single thought,” the writing says. One looks like the back base of a 175mm artillery shell, aiming downward, with a block of stone at the top. Another is a stainless steel tube with an overly engorged phallic-shaped head on the top.
Another display gives a trio of tables in mixed with stone, and chain and items on the tables. One table has stone with a hollowed-out center, and it hangs on a 2-inch steel rod that goes through the opening.
In another part of the room in a glass case, is a display of three objects all of which seem to have been penetrated by stainless steel rods in a fasceslike grouping. This display is called XIII Rods and was created in 2001 or a year later. “Carved stone and stainless steel. Private collection of the artist.”
Such work impresses me as industrial more than artistic, and seems more about high processes of steel and stone than intimate, loving dealings from the artist’s hands upon his medium. Its origins seem mechanical, as if from a factory, and so it seems less a creation than a product.
The Hunter website says Mrs. Baxter had been in banking but shifted toward art after taking a stone carving class in Gatlinburg, Tenn. She widened her interest in the type of stone upon which she worked, adding alabaster and marble, and going to bronze and stainless steel. By 40 she abandoned the world of easy debt and depositors for that of sculpting. She became highly interested in using steel and applying finishes to its surfaces.