Earl Cunningham's America

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New England Autumn (detail), 1928. Collection of Marilyn L. and Michael A. Mennello.
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Blue Sail Fleet Returns, after 1949. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Mennello.

Earl Cunningham's America examines paintings from Earl Cunningham's  entire career from 1926 to 1977. Cunningham (1893-1977) was one of the premier American folk artists of the 20th century. This retrospective presents the artist as a folk modernist who used flat space and brilliant color to create sophisticated compositions with complex meanings about the nature of American life. The exhibition features 50 of the more than 400 works on board that Cunningham painted during his life. The exhibition traces the story of Cunningham's life and places his work in the context of the folk art revival that brought Edward Hicks, Grandma Moses, Horace Pippin and other folk masters to national attention. Virginia Mecklenburg, senior curator for painting and sculpture at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is the curator of the exhibition. "Cunningham developed a distinct and personal lexicon that evoked his nostalgic version of an idyllic 19th-century world," said Mecklenburg. "Recurring motifs--Seminoles, Viking ships, swamps and harbors--are the unlikely ingredients in Cunningham's ideal model of America, which calls for coexistence, optimism, serenity and racial harmony. Like Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post magazine covers, Cunningham's images offer the old and the ordinary as an antidote to change."

Earl Cunningham's America is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The exhibition is made possible by generous support from Darden Restaurants Foundation; the Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation; the Arts and Cultural Affairs Office of Orange County, Fla.; CNL Financial Group; Bright House Networks; Lockheed Martin; and Friends of The Mennello Museum of American Art. The exhibition's tour is supported in part by the C.F. Foundation, Atlanta.