Light-filled Artworks by Barbara Earl Thomas Showcased in New Exhibition
NORFOLK, Va. (Feb. 1, 2023) The Chrysler Museum of Art will present new works by the celebrated artist, writer, and thinker Barbara Earl Thomas (American, b. 1948) in the exhibition Barbara Earl Thomas: The Illuminated Body. Demonstrating the artist’s talent across a wide range of artistic mediums including paper, glass, and Tyvek (an industrial material made from polyethylene fibers), the Chrysler-curated exhibition will be on view in the Museum’s Glass Projects Space and The Box galleries from February 24 to August 20, 2023.
Seattle-based Thomas is a talented visual storyteller who has drawn from history, literature, folklore, mythology, and biblical stories over her forty-year career to reflect the social fabric of our times. Her figural and narrative imagery has a deeply philosophical and emotional force, and light and dark have been especially potent concepts in her work. In The Illuminated Body, Thomas’s light-filled artworks and portraiture encourage the viewer to reflect on how we communicate ourselves to the world and how we perceive those around us.
The artist’s recent work meditates on the visual experience of the body within a physical and metaphorical world of light and shadow. Based on real people, her cut-and-layered paper portraits “elevate to the magnificent” her family, friends, and neighbors, as well as cultural icons of the Black literary landscape. As Thomas explains, “Like a conjurer, alchemist, and magician, I’ve created my illuminated bodies from scraps of shadow, light, and color. I use them for their elemental qualities to animate and suggest something alive and ever moving—like breath.”
In addition to two-dimensional works that give an illusion of illumination, the exhibition includes three-dimensional works in other media that draw on the same working methods and aesthetic results as those of Thomas’s cut-and-layered paper works. Glass vessels with sand-carved imagery glow with the light that passes through the translucent material, while the bodies of visitors will be bathed in light and shadow as they step inside The Box gallery to enter Transformation Room, a space surrounded with Tyvek curtains that have been cut to filter the light.
“Thomas may have trained as a painter, but her distinctive graphic style transcends any one medium,” says the show’s curator, Carolyn Swan Needell, Ph.D., the Carolyn and Richard Barry Curator of Glass. “The works included in this show are unified by their creation with the utility knife,” Needell explains; “Thomas uses the knife to slice through her materials, revealing—and reveling in—the light that filters through. Illumination (physical and metaphorical) is the underlying concept that ties it all together.”
Barbara Earl Thomas: The Illuminated Body includes nine cut paper portraits, three glass vessels, one glass lightbox, and a cut-Tyvek installation. The exhibition will travel to two other venues after the Chrysler Museum of Art, including the Wichita Museum of Art (October 8, 2023–January 14, 2024) and the Arthur Ross Gallery (February 17–May 21, 2024) at the University of Pennsylvania. An illustrated catalog will accompany the show, with scholarly essays contributed by Carolyn Swan Needell (Chrysler Museum of Art), Kemi Adeyemi (Univeristy of Washington in Seattle), and Emily Zimmerman (Arthur Ross Gallery), and opening remarks written by the artist.
This exhibition is organized by the Chrysler Museum of Art.
Tickle My Ears: Your Name is a Song
Thursday, March 2 at 10:30 a.m.
Free, no registration required
Tickle My Ears is a literacy and art program for our littlest visitors. Designed to delight and inspire children ages 2-5, each session focuses on a different story, theme, and activity. Meet us in Huber Court to start our 30-40 minute art adventure!
This month, share the beauty, history, and magic behind names in Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow’s Your Name is a Song. We’ll look at the portraits featuring musicians in Barbara Earl Thomas’s exhibition The Illuminated Body and then make an instrument so you can turn your name into a song too.
Chrysler Book Club
Jean Outland Chrysler Library Reading Room
Sunday, March 12 at 3 p.m.
Free, Registration required
In Middle Passage by Charles R. Johnson, we follow the misadventures of Rutherford Calhoun, a newly freed slave. When Calhoun stows away aboard a ship leaving New Orleans, he inadvertently becomes an accessory to the North Atlantic slave trade. Reconciling the horrors of the Middle Passage with the surprising humor of a picaresque adventure, Johnson’s tale is a unique and complex contribution to literature.
This month’s selection was chosen to support Barbara Earl Thomas: The Illuminated Body. Thomas creates portraits of her close circle of friends and family as well as literary greats, including author Charles R. Johnson.
Artist Talk: Barbara Earl Thomas
Sunday, March 26 at 3 p.m.
$5 for Museum members, $10 for non-members. Registration required.
Join Seattle-based artist Barbara Earl Thomas for discussion of her artistic journey and the process and inspiration behind her work included in the exhibition The Illuminated Body. Thomas’s light-filled artworks cross multiple artistic mediums and ask us to reflect on the human body within a physical and metaphorical world of light and shadow.
Friday, April 14 at 10:30 a.m.
Meet in Huber Court
Individuals with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and their care partners are invited to a conversational tour led by Chrysler docents. Each month we will explore a new exhibition or theme. Share your experiences and observations and learn from other participants as well.
This month’s program will feature the exhibition Barbara Earl Thomas: The Illuminated Body. These new works by the celebrated artist, writer, and thinker meditate on the visual experience of the body within a physical and metaphorical world of light and shadow. Based on real people, the portraits “elevate to the magnificent” her family, friends, and neighbors, as well as cultural icons of the Black literary landscape.
Art Matters is a free program presented in partnership with the Southeastern Virginia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. To register, please call 800-272-3900.
Gallery Talk with the Curator
Sunday, July 16 at 2 p.m.
Free, no registration
Join Carolyn Swan Needell, Ph.D., the Barry Curator of Glass, for an exploration of Barbara Earl Thomas: The Illuminated Body. This informal talk will examine the artist’s working process and explore a range of materials including paper, glass, and Tyvek to consider what such light-filled artworks might communicate to viewers.
ABOUT THE CHRYSLER MUSEUM OF ART
The Chrysler Museum of Art is one of America’s most distinguished mid-sized art museums, with a nationally recognized collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America. The core of the Chrysler’s collection comes from Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., an avid art collector who donated thousands of objects from his private collection to the Museum. The Museum has growing collections in many areas and mounts an ambitious schedule of visiting exhibitions and educational programs each season. The Chrysler has also been recognized nationally for its unique commitment to hospitality with its innovative gallery host program.
The Perry Glass Studio is a state-of-the-art facility on the Museum’s campus. The studio offers programming for aspiring and master artists alike in a variety of processes including glassblowing, fusing, flameworking, coldworking and neon.
In addition, the Chrysler Museum of Art administers the Moses Myers House, a historic house in downtown Norfolk, as well as the Jean Outland Chrysler Library. For more information on the Chrysler Museum of Art, visit chrysler.org.
For more information, interview assistance, or a high-resolution image suitable for publication, please contact Jordan Fontenot at The Meridian Group at 757-340-7425 or email@example.com