Stephen Towns: Declaration & Resistance

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Stephen Towns: Declaration & Resistance examines the American dream through the lives of Black Americans from the late 18th century to the present time. Using labor as a backdrop, Towns highlights the role African Americans have played in shaping the economy, and explores their resilience, resistance, and endurance that have challenged the United States to truly embrace the tenants of its Declaration of Independence.

For this exhibition, Towns is creating a new body of figurative paintings and story quilts that along with existing work expand the historical narratives of enslaved and free people who toiled under the most extreme hardships yet persevered through acts of rebellion, skillful guile and self-willed determination. The exhibition will be grounded with several existing works including his installation quilt, Birth of a Nation, 2014, to provide the foundation for the creation of Town’s new series of quilts that give voice to textile, culinary and agricultural workers.

For the special series entitled The Coal Miners, six distinctive mixed-media paintings, feature Black miners of West Virginia who were relegated to the most difficult, underpaid, most dangerous and insecure jobs. Towns also foregrounds the stories of Black military workers, often frontline service people, who put their country first, which is the ultimate form of patriotism.  A few works in the exhibition shine light on the history of convict leasing (commonly known as chain gangs) by the criminal justice system in which the Black community was made to serve the economic interests of white southern elites via forced labor.

Towns calls attention to the hidden figures who helped shape American cuisine. Among these works the artist honors Ms. Elsie Henderson, who recently passed away at the incredible age of 107.  Over the course of her life, Ms. Henderson used her culinary skills to nourish the appetites of several wealthy Pittsburgh families including the Kaufmans, owners of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Fallingwater in Mill Run, PA. Towns will participate in an artist residency program at Fallingwater in June 2021 to create new fiber works.

Lastly, Towns pays tribute to Ona Judge, President George Washington’s runaway slave. Judge was an invaluable seamstress and body servant to Martha Washington, who as a teenager escaped Mount Vernon and fled to New England.

Museum Information

Museum Hours
Wednesday-Sunday > 10am-5pm
Monday & Tuesday > Closed

Address
The Westmoreland Museum of American Art
221 N. Main Street
Greensburg, PA 15601
724.837.1500
info@thewestmoreland.org

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Admission to the Museum remains free with advance online registration now required.
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Ample free parking for Museum visitors is available on site.

Accessibility
The Museum and gardens are ADA accessible. For easiest access to the building for those with mobility disabilities, please consider using our North Entrance with pull-in parking spaces located on Academy Hill Place.

Stephen Towns was born in 1980 in Lincolnville, South Carolina and lives and works in Baltimore. He trained as a painter with a BFA in studio art from the University of South Carolina, and has also developed a rigorous, self-taught quilting practice. In 2018, The Baltimore Museum of Art presented his first museum exhibition, Stephen Towns: Rumination and a Reckoning. His work has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, Artforum, The Washington Post, Hyperallergic, Cultured, AFROPUNK, HYPEBEAST and American Craft. Towns was honored as the inaugural recipient of the 2016 Municipal Art Society of Baltimore Travel Prize, and in 2021, Towns was awarded a Maryland State Arts Council’s Individual Artist Award. Towns’ work is in the collections of The National Museum of African American History and Culture, Art + Practice, artist Mark Bradford’s nonprofit based in Leimert Park, Los Angeles, The Petrucci Family Foundation, The Baltimore Museum of Art, the City of Charleston, South Carolina, The Nelson Atkins Museum, St. Louis, Missouri, and is held in private collections nationally and abroad.

Stephen Towns: Declaration & Resistance is organized by guest curator Kilolo Luckett, founding executive director and chief curator of Alma|Lewis (named after abstract artists Alma Thomas and Norman Lewis), an experimental, contemporary art platform for critical thinking, dialogue, and creative expression dedicated to Black culture.

Stephen Towns: Declaration & Resistance is supported by Eden Hall Foundation; Arts, Equity, & Education Fund; and De Buck Gallery. Funding for this exhibition was also generously provided by the Hillman Exhibition Fund of The Westmoreland Museum of American Art. This exhibition is completed in partnership with the Rivers of Steel Heritage Area. Funding was provided in part by a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, Environmental Stewardship Fund, administered by the Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp. This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.