It’s been an eventful week in Lagniappe’s arts quarters and we’ve got some catching up to do. I prefer to end on a better note, so let’s get the unpleasant part over with first.
It seems the June 12 cover story on the William “Bill” Morris saga stirred commentary. Apparently it was the topic of much conversation during the June 13 LoDa Artwalk, with some going so far as to say Mobile’s art news was “finally” getting the attention it deserved.
Other information reached Artifice that wasn’t as laudatory in nature. It would seem a pair of local arts groups knew about the Morris issue with the Western artists for a while now.
The Watercolor and Graphic Arts Society of Mobile (WGAS) took severe action as a result, facts Artifice confirmed with a trio of sources and a copy of the official investigative summary. In 2012, WGAS sent a certified letter to Morris outlining the charges against him and offered him an opportunity to respond. It was clearly stated that if no response was issued in 15 days’ time, the prohibition would stand. No response appeared.
WGAS rescinded Morris’ awards though they did not attempt to retrieve prize money. Then, they removed his name from their membership lists.
On the advice of legal counsel, WGAS did not make this public. Individuals privy to the actions were free to speak.
The sources revealed the decision was difficult. Mixed feelings were stirred not just based on Morris’ talents, but the fact he had donated award money several times to their exhibitions.
Within three months’ time, the board of the Mobile Art Association (MAA) took a look at the same evidence that prompted WGAS’ actions. According to numerous sources privy to their decisions, the MAA board sent Morris a certified letter telling him they would put his membership to a vote of the general body and would give him 30 days to respond in any fashion. Again, Morris never responded.
The general membership vote was contentious, according to several of those present. Morris still had loyal fans, but the vote resulted in his membership being rescinded.
Morris is still listed as president of the Watercolor Society of Alabama (WSA) on the group’s website. In a posted letter to the membership dated June 11, 2014 and signed by Morris, he outlines stringent requirements for their 73rd annual competition. Among those things listed as strictly prohibited are “copies or likenesses of another’s work (i.e. painting, drawing, photograph, digital image or print),” and “artwork derived from any published source.”
Triumph in Texas
From out west, we caught wind of Xavier de Richemont’s triumphant premiere of “The Saga,” the outdoor light and sound installation in San Antonio that was the subject of the June 12 Artifice. Apparently the space surrounding San Fernando Cathedral – the architectural canvas for Richemont’s 24-minute masterpiece – was packed with curious residents who sat in awestruck rapture as the installation burst forth on June 13.
The kaleidoscopic display ran the historic gamut and the musical accompaniment followed suit, employing everything from Native American work, to traditional Mexican strains, to the Maple Leaf Rag, to Bob Dylan. If the number of smartphone video recorders held aloft are any measure of approval, Richemont did his job. It was further confirmed by the rapturous standing ovation that filled the air upon the work’s completion.
“This is more astounding that I imagined,” President and CEO of Witte Museum Marise McDermott exclaimed to mainplaza.org. “To challenge the understanding of an iconic cathedral is breathtaking.”
Richemont told one reporter he was most excited about a segment toward the end he called “The Faces of San Antonio” featuring home-grown celebrities, religious figures, politicians and athletes. He also implemented weeks of photos culled in contemporary San Antonio.
“I’m excited about the reception we’ve gotten,” Richemont told mysanantonio.com. “I’m here from nine at night until 2 a.m. every morning for the last week working on this and we’ve had hundreds of people just come and look, excited, already starting to reconnect.”
If you want to see this incredible work for yourself, it’s available on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=sB-BEB-kH5k. Bear in mind when watching how scale and majesty improves in person as compared to mere video recording.
As stated in the last Artifice, the only thing keeping us from enjoying the same attraction here is us. History shows us we can make it happen if we want.
When the USS Alabama was bound for the scrap yard in 1962, Mobilians launched into action, forming the USS Alabama Battleship Commission with haste. A corporate fundraising campaign amassed nearly $1 million and school children collected close to $100,000 in spare change. Adjusted for inflation, those sums would be $7.5 million and $750,000 respectively, far more than it would take for Richemont’s tourist magnet to manifest on our landmark.
As I watched the goings on in San Antonio, I imagined a similar premiere in Mobile. I envisioned the massive field at Battleship Park stuffed with thousands of observers. The Causeway would be similarly lined with onlookers and the bay itself could be crowded with boats and pleasure craft enjoying our three centuries of American story writ large for the very first time.
It will happen if we want it. Meanwhile, I can dream, right?