GMA exhibit explores Greenville, Then and Now
Friday, June 21, 2019
Inside the Greenville Museum of Art are tranquil scenes by artist Sarah Blakeslee that have remained unaltered for decades. But just outside the museum’s front doors, due to the growth of the Central Business District, the view is changing.
“Greenville, Then and Now” is an effort to look at both. The exhibition, opening today, provides a glimpse into the city’s history, along with a chance to contemplate how the local landscape is undergoing a transformation.
The exhibit includes a display in the Commons Gallery of photographs, documents, artifacts and memorabilia from Greenville’s history. The West Wing Gallery features a juried exhibition of two dozen artists’ works based on the theme, along with a few selected pieces from the museum’s permanent collection.
“The whole inspiration for this was landscapes are changing in Greenville,” said Trista Reis Porter, the museum’s interim executive director. “It is meant to sort of think about development as a positive thing that’s bringing a lot of growth to town, but also getting a kind of window into some of this history that has kind of been lost, at least physically.”
Artist Joy Parks Coats’ “Rustic Barn” illustrates the kind of tobacco barn that was once a common sight throughout the area. Her painting, “Tobacco and Pepsi,” shows both the crop and the cola for which eastern North Carolina was known.
“An old tobacco farmer once told me that Pitt County grows the best tobacco in the world,” Coates wrote.
Susan Luddeke’s painting, “The Turtle Pond” depicts a favorite spot that is now part of the Greenville Greenway.
Jeremiah J. Barnes’ “Through the Concrete Looking Glass” is part of his photographic documentation of the changes in topography downtown over the past three years.
Digital photography by George Bailey shows the difference a few years can make. His black and white image, taken in 2013 at Fifth and Greene streets, shows a 1940s bus station. A photo taken in the same spot in 2018 shows an apartment complex in its place.
Brothers Dan and Jacob Sieg recreated a more than 60-year-old image with “Then and Now: Evans Street.” The photo and collage enhances a 1955 street scene with touches of color, adding some purple and gold Pirate wear and the “Hurry” rabbit mural that was on display at Fifth and Evans from 2015-18. The positioning of pedestrians from both 1955 and 2017 demonstrates how hem lengths have risen sharply over the years. Classic cars appear alongside more modern makes, parked outside storefronts that no longer exist.
“A couple of these pieces were created for the exhibition, but artists are already thinking about these things,” Porter said. “Artists are already interested in change in Greenville and what’s happening and capturing certain places before they’re gone.”
As part of “Greenville, Then and Now,” mementos of bygone eras fill the Commons Gallery. Many of the photos, such as John F. Kennedy’s 1960 visit to Greenville, are images from The Daily Reflector that are now a part of the Joyner Library Digital Collection.
Black and white photos of cotton fields and tobacco markets illustrate the region’s agricultural heritage. The exhibit also includes pictures of landmarks that have disappeared from the landscape, including Brody’s department store, Stadium Cleaners and the former C.M. Eppes High School.
A trophy case contains souvenirs from several schools, including a 1928 commencement program from East Carolina Teacher’s College, tickets to a 1950 glee club performance at the former Greenville High School and football from the 1965 Tangerine Bowl. (The Pirates defeated the Maine Black Bears 31-0.)
Porter, who came to town in April 2018 to become the museum’s assistant curator of exhibitions and collections, said “Greenville, Then and Now” has helped her come to know her community.
“It’s kind of given me, I feel like, an inside look into Greenville’s history, just kind of understanding a little bit more about the dynamics of the town,” she said. “There’s so much history … Everybody that I talk to has another place that’s really important and significant that I hadn’t heard from anybody else.”
Porter hopes that others who have recently moved to the area will view the exhibit as a way to learn about their new locale. She believes it also has value for people who have called Greenville home for years.
“People who have been here for a long time can come and sort of reflect and remember and ponder and reminisce about what life was like versus what it’s like now,” she said.
The exhibit is not designed to be comprehensive but includes small selections from the past. The museum will provide notebooks that people can use to add their thoughts and observations about Greenville’s history.
“I think museums are the places to have these kinds of conversations and this focus on changing landscapes,” Porter said. “ I think art is a really great way for us to think about what those changes really mean and what they really look like, how they might affect people. It just gives us a place to reflect on these things from every angle.”
Porter named Museum of Art interim director
Greenville Museum of Art Assistant Curator of Exhibitions and Collections Trista Reis Porter has been named interim executive director.
Porter, who joined the staff in April 2018, is filling the role left vacant by Ned Puchner, who had served as executive director of the museum since 2017. The museum's fourth director in three decades, Puchner replaced Charlotte Fitz-Daniels, who held the position from 2009-16. Puchner left his post last month to pursue a job closer to family.
In a letter to museum members, board president Emily Coffman praised Puchner for changes he made during his tenure.
“Ned added a new element to each exhibit by incorporating monthly programs and presentations by the artists,” Coffman wrote. “These programs added another opportunity for learning and art appreciation for both our members and guests.”
Puchner also is credited with overseeing a new courtyard and the relocation of the museum's reception area, along with the opening of the McCall Creation Workshop, an interactive area for museum guests to create works.
Porter, a native of Iowa, has undergraduate and graduate degrees in art history, criticism and conservation from the University of Iowa and Indiana University. She received a doctorate in American studies from the University of North carolina at Chapel Hill in May 2018.