NORMAN, OKLA. – A new exhibition at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art looks at Mediterranean culture through the eyes of 19th-century American painters. Mediterranea: American Art from the GrahamD. Williford Collection opens with a free reception at 7 p.m. Friday, March 4, at the FJJMA at the University of Oklahoma. A special guest lecture by Charles C. Eldredge will accompany the exhibition’s opening reception at 6 p.m. Association members and the public are invited.

Mark White, Eugene B. Adkins Curator at the museum and curator of the exhibition, said Mediterranea explores the major cultures and monuments of the Mediterranean region through the art works of Americanartists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“American tourism of Europe before the Civil War usually followed that of the Grand Tour, which included all the important cultural centers of France, Italy and Germany,” White said. “But in the late 19th century, American artists showed increasing interest in points abroad, including Spain, the Holy Land, Egypt and much of northern Africa. Mediterranea provides contemporary viewers with an exploration of the ways American artists understood, interpreted and portrayed Mediterranean culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

Made possible through a generous loan from the Jean and Graham Devoe Williford CharitableTrust, the exhibition features several dozen works depicting landscapes, seascapes and iconic topography.

“The mystery of Egypt, the warmth of Italy, the exoticism of Lebannon – these images and others of Mediterranean culture help us understand this part of the world,” said Ghislain d’Humières, director of the FJJMA. “By visually diving into the region’s history, visitors to Mediterranea also gain insight into 21st-century political situations in these countries.”

American artists became interested in the aspects of nature and culture that they believed to define the Mediterranean: its distinctive flora, the legacy of the Greco-Roman past and the influence of Christianity and Islam.

The results rarely depicted a homogenous image of the Mediterranean, but often focused on the visual signs of cross-sea warfare, trade and religious influence.

Popular travel writers such as George William Curtis, Bayard Taylor and Mark Twain attracted American attention to North Africa and the Middle East. Some American artists were encouraged to visit Spain, the Middle East and Africa by their European teachers. Wealthy collectors also drew artists to popular vacation spots such as Venice and the Nile River. Finally, religious faith prompted some Americans to visit the Holy Land and other sites important to their beliefs.

“While the respective reasons for Mediterranean travel differed among American artists, the visual records of their travels demonstrate a growing awareness of a palpable unity in the region,” White said.

Guest opening reception speaker Eldredge is the Hall Distinguished Professor of American Art and Culture at the University of Kansas’ History of Art department. Eldredge is the former director of the National Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution and the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas. His research and teaching focus on painting, sculpture and allied arts of the United States, especially from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries.

The exhibition opening triples as a Museum Association party and a retirement party for Mary Jane Rutherford, community relations officer at the museum, who has served the museum for 40 years in the Museum Association and Museum Store.

At 8 p.m., graduate students from the OU School of Dance will give a special presentation of “Frame by Frame,” a new piece choreographed specifically for the Mediterranea exhibition. Under the direction of Mary Margaret Holt, director of the OU School of Dance, the piece is inspired by works from theWilliford Collection displayed in the exhibition.

Mediterranea: American Art from the Graham D. Williford Collection remains on display through May 15. Interdisciplinary programs, including films, lectures and a symposium, are scheduled throughout the duration of the exhibition. The symposium, titled Social and Political Issues in the Mediterranean, is scheduled for April 7 and features OU faculty from multiple areas of study discussing past and current issues affecting the Mediterranean. The symposium is coordinated with assistance from professor Robert Cox of the European Union Center. Each event is free and open to the public.

An exhibitioncatalog is available in the Museum Store.

The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is located in the OU Arts District on the corner of Elm Avenue and Boyd Street, at 555 Elm Ave., on the OU Norman campus. 

Admission to the museum is free to all OU students with a current student ID and all museum association members, $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, $3 for children 6 to 17 years of age, $2 for OU faculty/staff and free for military veterans with proof and children 5 and under. The museum is closed on Mondays and admission is free on Tuesdays. The museum’s website is Information and accommodations on the basis of disability are available by calling (405) 325-4938.

Construction on a new wing is under way, but the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is open and fully functional with exhibitions and programming throughout the entire construction process.

Michael Bendure
Director of Communication
Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art
University of Oklahoma
(405) 325-3178