Friday, December 28, 2007

Thursday evenings at the Ogden

Before I moved here, my friend Janet gave me the lowdown on things to do. You must join the Ogden Museum of Southern Art for their Thursday evening After Hours music series, she said.

What a special place the Ogden is! A small museum - one might call it boutique - toured in an hour or less, is always an uplifting experience. Combining traditional with contemporary and Outsider art, the Ogden offers a rare perspective on what it means to be a Southern artist, or even a Southerner, for that matter.

The museum in Goldring Hall on Camp Street is very vertical, with sculpture on the rooftop, overlooking interconnecting highways and the Mississippi Bridge. You can start your visit there, taking in the sunset, as the lights come up, while sipping a glass of wine or local Abita Springs beer.

I find the art exhibits to be intensely personal. One was a series of black & white photo portraits of well known Southern writers in their work settings.

A second, decades of poignant photos of acclaimed writer/editor Willie Morris by his son, accompanied by handwritten letters, offering kindly advice and encouragement, both professional and personal.

A third exhibit called "Terra Incognita' captures the beauty of the swamps, which have been greatly affected by The Storm. Did anyone realize Eudora Welty was also a magnificent photojournalist, as well as novelist?

I recall the music best. The Barrel House Mamas - three gorgeous young women from Warren Wilson college in North Carolina, who drove all day to get here, harmonized and played their own compositions on strings and flute. I was introduced to a New Orleans favorite, Luther Kent who gave a rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In" as I've never heard it. And Judith Owen, swinging her mane of long, thick hair, while accompanying herself on piano, was surrounded by an unusual number of admiring, middle-aged men, listening breathlessly. There have been other performers, but those are the most memorable.

The music echoes up through the glass and stone building, allowing you to continue viewing art while listening, should you choose. Or to sit on stools right in front of the performers in the most intimate connection. An interview session and Q&A usually provides insight into the inspiration for their music.

There was once a museum like the Ogden downtown Chicago called the Terra. It could not survive so close to the Art Institute right across Michigan Avenue. It was not big enough or grand enough because BIG is what Chicago is about. The Terra simply had the most wonderful collection of mostly Impressionist art that could be seen in about an hour. It ultimately moved to Evanston, just north of Chicago. But I don't think the Terra ever had the soul of the Ogden, which has taken on a whole new mission post-Katrina.

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