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I was in contact with the committee that put together the landmark 1983 exhibition, Painting in the South: 1564-1980, through my friend Bob Coggins, a collector widely regarded as a godfather of sorts in Southern art circles and, naturally, a member of the exhibition committee. Ella-Prince Knox was the project director and I came to know her—or her me—through my incessant correspondence. Poor woman. I so wanted to be part of this thing, but in the end was able to offer nothing worthy of inclusion. Jane and I did make it to the opening that September in Richmond; that night marked one of the pivotal corners I turned early in the game.

My conviction that I was destined to deal in Southern art was made hard copy that very night. Jane and I stayed at the Hyatt way out Broad Street, where we had lodged several times before when we exhibited at the Richmond Academy of Medicine Antiques Show. Jane was more active in the business then and would work with me as we filled our booth with whatever seemed to make sense: furniture and pottery, maps and prints, sometimes silver, and always a little folk art. The morning after the opening, however, I awoke to a new world and a new brand of business. From then on, it was paintings for me.

Before that time, nothing in the South beyond the known portraitists had been included in the larger popular canon of American art. But now we had an exhibition and a companion catalogue that used the words “painting” and “South” in the same phrase, no longer an oxymoron. That hefty volume—its glossy black cover enlivened by a slice of watermelon and glossy grapes, a detail from a large still life by Sarah Miriam Peale—became my handbook. I read it and studied it and squirreled away extra copies. I could not have then imagined that, over time, I would come to own many of the paintings in that exhibition and consider each of them all the more important for their inclusion. I saw the exhibit in four of the six venues, using each stop to try to meet those with interest enough to attend the openings or spend time wandering the walls, taking it all in. On my third visit, this time in Jackson, Mississippi, Jessie Poesch, one of the project’s leading scholars, saw me in the audience for her talk, and, afterwards at the reception, she remembered my name.

Artist Unknown ()
Plan of Civilization ()
Oil on canvas
35 7/8 x 49 7/8 inches
Owner: Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, South Carolina
1451 River Road · Yemassee, SC 29945 · 843.412.8738
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