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Exploring Memphis History: From Artisans to Artists

As a rather new employee at the Metal Museum, I have recently been exposed to a myriad of metal artwork. While I continue to learn more about this particular kind of art, it is safe to say that the Metal Arts is an incredibly unique and innovative field. Upon my arrival to the museum, the exhibition From Artisans to Artists: African American Metal Workers in Memphis was just beginning to operate in full swing. The exhibition, specially curated by the brilliant Dr. Earnestine Jenkins, quickly piqued my interest. Fortunately, the museum staff was given the opportunity to have a guided tour of the exhibit- an opportunity that I am grateful to have been offered. The artwork itself is a beautiful collection of African and African American pieces that have made statements in the metal work community. I was excited to see artwork from West Africa featured in the exhibit as I studied the art of this region during my last year of undergrad. To know that these foreign pieces could be connected to the work created by Black metalsmiths right here in Memphis was mind-blowing.

With Dr. Jenkins being a proud native, it is understandable that one of the focal points of this exhibit is Black pioneers of Whitehaven. From Artisans to Artists: African American Metalworkers in Memphis offers a detailed perspective into the forgotten history of the city and the African American metal workers who greatly impacted the development of the area. The exhibit provides information on historical figures that may not have been discussed in primary school. For example, photography and biographic information is presented for Blair Hunt and David Carnes–two extraordinary blacksmiths and entrepreneurs. There is also artwork from incredible contemporary artists: Richard Hunt, Lorenzo Scruggs, Desmond Lewis, and Hawkins Bolden. I was impressed by the creative genius of each metal worker’s artistic decisions, i.e. Lewis's choice to include music as a way to enhance the meaning of his artwork.

As We Come To An End...

At the end of the tour, I was left in awe as I reveled in such an enlightening experience. As a young African American woman and Memphis native, I realized that From Artisans to Artists was a collection of profound work that would forever change my perspective of Memphis and the communities that have brought and continue to bring life into this city. This is an amazing exhibit and as it approaches an end on September 11, I am highly anticipating the next event where Dr. Jenkins discusses more about her research. From Artisans to Artists: Art in The Park will be held on September 10 from 10am-2pm, at David Carnes Park; this is a free community event that will commemorate the namesake exhibition a day before its closure.

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