July 2017
Homeplace & Community

A Panorama of Alabama Agriculture

John Augustus Walker’s 1939 Alabama State Fair artwork is on display at the Georgine Clarke Alabama Artists Gallery.

 

   

The Alabama State Council on the Arts is currently hosting an exhibition of large paintings by John Augustus Walker that were produced for the 1939 Alabama State Fair.

In the spring of 1939, Posey Oliver Davis, director of Alabama’s Agricultural Cooperative Extension Service, commissioned artist John Augustus Walker to create a comprehensive visual record of the history of farming within our state to be featured at the 1939 Alabama State Fair in Birmingham. Breaking with a tradition of displaying canned goods and record-setting crops, Davis planned to offer something more spectacular that fall, for which Walker’s paintings would be the dramatic centerpiece.

A native of Mobile, Walker had previously painted a series of large murals in Mobile for the Works Progress Administration and came highly recommended by its regional director. Over the next several months, the artist conferred with administrators at the cooperative Extension service on the campus of Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University), along with personnel from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Federal Art Project of the WPA, to lay out the themes for the ambitious endeavor. With assistance from fellow Mobile artist Richebourg Gaillard Jr. (1906-2007), Walker produced 10 large tempera paintings on canvas collectively titled the "Historical Panorama of Alabama Agriculture." He installed the brilliantly colored scenes in mural fashion inside a fairground pavilion, with decorative bunting suspended between each panel and draped as garlands from the open ceiling crossbeams. By all accounts, it was a distinctive and popular exhibit.

After their weeklong showing at the State Fair in October 1939, the paintings returned to Auburn where they were placed in storage and all but forgotten until 2006, when the renamed Alabama Cooperative Extension System rediscovered the canvases and featured them during Auburn University’s sesquicentennial celebration. Four years later the Panorama paintings – originally intended for only a short-lived exposition – were treated by an art conservator to ensure their longevity and transferred to the permanent collection of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University. Walker’s and Posey’s inventive collaboration can now be studied among related paintings as a striking example of New Deal-era public art.

The Council is pleased to collaborate with the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University to share these works for exhibition as part of the ongoing ALABAMA 200 bicentennial celebration. Nearly 80 years since the Panorama’s initial viewing, we hope Walker’s broad survey of Alabama’s history and culture will continue to inspire both pride and optimism.

The exhibit will be on display in the Georgine Clarke Alabama Artists Gallery through Aug, 9, 2017. The gallery is operated by the Alabama State Council on the Arts and is free and open to the public Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. The gallery is located on the first floor of the RSA Tower, located in downtown Montgomery at 201 Monroe Street. It can be visited at www.arts.alabama.gov.

For additional information, please contact Elliot A. Knight, Ph.D., at 334-242-4076, ext. 250 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..