Visual Art and the Urban Evolution of the New South

Visual Art and the Urban Evolution of the New South

Visual Art and the Urban Evolution of the New South

Visual Art and the Urban Evolution of the New South


Visual Art and the Urban Evolution of the New South recounts the enormous influence of artists in the evolution of six southern cities--Atlanta, Charleston, New Orleans, Louisville, Austin, and Miami--from 1865 to 1950. In the decades following the Civil War, painters, sculptors, photographers, and illustrators in these municipalities employed their talents to articulate concepts of the New South, aestheticism, and Gilded Age opulence and to construct a visual culture far beyond providing pretty pictures in public buildings and statues in city squares.

As Deborah C. Pollack investigates New South proponents such as Henry W. Grady of Atlanta and other regional leaders, she identifies "cultural strivers"--philanthropists, women's organizations, entrepreneurs, writers, architects, politicians, and dreamers--who united with visual artists to champion the arts both as a means of cultural preservation and as mechanisms of civic progress. Aestheticism, made popular by Oscar Wilde's southern tours during the Gilded Age, was another driving force in art creation and urban improvement. Specific art works occasionally precipitated controversy and incited public anger, yet for the most part artists of all kinds were recognized as providing inspirational incentives for self-improvement, civic enhancement and tourism, art appreciation, and personal fulfillment through the love of beauty.

Each of the six New South cities entered the late nineteenth century with fractured artistic heritages. Charleston and Atlanta had to recover from wartime devastation. The infrastructures of New Orleans and Louisville were barely damaged by war, but their social underpinnings were shattered by the end of slavery and postwar economic depression. Austin was not vitalized until after the Civil War and Miami was a post-Civil War creation. Pollack surveys these New South cities with an eye to understanding how each locale shaped its artistic and aesthetic self-perception across a spectrum of economic, political, gender, and race issues. She also discusses Lost Cause imagery, present in all the studied municipalities.

While many art history volumes concerning the South focus on sultry landscapes outside the urban grid, Visual Art and the Urban Evolution of the New South explores the art belonging to its cities, whether exhibited in its museums, expositions, and galleries, or reflective of its parks, plazas, marketplaces, industrial areas, gardens, and universities. It also identifies and celebrates the creative urban humanity who helped build the cultural and social framework for the modern southern city.


In 2010 I received an e-mail from Zane L. Miller, Charles Phelps Taft Professor Emeritus of History, University of Cincinnati, who requested that I tackle the subject of art and southern cities. He remarked, “I think that art history and urban history go together” and suggested to “do what you did” in a previous interdisciplinary book I wrote concerning Laura Woodward, a Hudson River School/Florida artist, and her times. Dr. Miller, whom I hadn’t encountered until then, gave me the choice to explore six cities either in Florida or throughout the South. I opted for the broader area of interest. He and I selected the municipalities, and after introducing me to urban historical books, he sent me on my adventure.

During the research I was frankly intrigued that no matter what city I explored, artists and art supporters had a similar and formidable impact on urban evolution, social change, historic preservation, and tourism. Some were actively involved in the planning, promoting, building, and/or beautification of their municipalities. This spurred me to delve further. In doing so I also learned how aestheticism, largely via John Ruskin and Oscar Wilde, influenced citizens of all the municipalities and that artists and art strivers also excelled at trumpeting the New South message and introducing northern art tendencies to their cities. All this made my study fascinating as these notions had not, to my knowledge, been extensively investigated in any other southern art historical publication. Equally compelling was the contribution of women artists and art proponents who united to help improve their cities and in some cases effectuate museums. Finally, concurrent issues such as suffrage and, as it was a story of the South, racial unrest could not be ignored as both subjects affected our cities’ evolution.

This examination of southern urban growth and its relationship to art has been an arduous effort. But it was well worth it, considering how much I learned and can now share.

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