The Bates College Museum of Art will present a symposium on Lewiston native Marsden Hartley, a pioneer in modern American art, tonight and Saturday, Nov. 6.

The symposium complements the current exhibition of Hartley’s work at the museum, “Marsden Hartley: Image and Identity.” The symposium will begin at 6 p.m. tonight in the Benjamin Mays Center at Bates, 95 Russell St., Lewiston.

Donna M. Cassidy, professor of American and New England studies and art history at the University of Southern Maine, will present the keynote speech, “‘Yankee Queer’: Marsden Hartley’s Maine Folk and Regional/Sexual Identities.” A reception will follow in the art museum, in the nearby Olin Arts Center, 75 Russell St.

Saturday’s events will take place in Olin Arts Center’s Room 104. That program will begin at 10 a.m. with presentations by Marcia Brennan, an art historian at Rice University, and Randall Griffey, a curator at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. A 1:30 p.m. panel discussion will include all the speakers along with Liz Sheehan, the Bates museum’s assistant curator of academic and exhibition initiatives, and Erica Rand, professor of art and visual culture and chair of Bates’ program in women’s and gender studies.

Hartley (1877-1943) was an innovative modernist associated with the New York circle of photographer Alfred Stieglitz and painter Georgia O’Keeffe. The symposium is intended to explore how his homosexuality, an often disregarded but important factor in his life, affected his work.

Collection at Bates

“We want to affirm the place of gender studies in the curriculum and also as an entry to the study of art history,” Sheehan said. “Although the Bates College Museum of Art was founded around a collection of Hartley art and documentary materials, we haven’t addressed his work in that context. It’s overdue, especially considering that much of the work we have can be described as homoerotic.”

The Hartley collection includes more than 90 drawings, family photographs, jewelry, travel souvenirs and ephemera. Hartley’s works are believed to reflect the many social and historical changes he observed during his lifetime. Though the collection gives great insight into this artist who often felt like an outsider, according to the museum, it also raises many other questions about him, providing a substantial foundation for discussion.

Participants will examine gender issues relating to his work and, more broadly, the application of gender-studies methodology to the study of art history, said Sheehan.

Cassidy is the author of “Painting the Musical City: Jazz and Cultural Identity in American Art, 1910-1940” (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997) and “Marsden Hartley: Region, Race, and Nation,” scheduled for publication next spring by the University Press of New England.

Preparing for 2007 exhibit

Brennan’s topic is “Marsden Hartley: Mysticism, Masculinity and the Paradox of Oneness.” She is the author of “Painting Gender, Constructing Theory: The Alfred Stieglitz Circle and American Formalist Aesthetics (MIT Press, 2001) and a sequel volume, “Modernism’s Masculine Subjects: Matisse, the New York School, and Post-Painterly Abstraction,” due out this year.

Griffey is the associate curator of American art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and teaches at the University of Missouri there. His writings on Hartley include a 2001 article “Marsden Hartley’s Lincoln Portraits” in the magazine American Art. His symposium topic is “‘Such Beautiful Idealists’: Marsden Hartley’s Brief Foray Inside a ‘Finnish-Yankee Sauna.'”

The concluding panel discussion will bring Hartley’s work and issues into the present, while questioning contemporary investigations into sexuality and art. Rand teaches courses on contemporary culture with particular attention to sexuality, race and gender. Her current research will culminate in the book “The Ellis Island Snow Globe: Sex, Money, Products, Nation” in 2005.

The symposium is part of an effort to lay the groundwork for a major exhibit in 2007 that will explore Hartley along with other gay artists working in Maine around the same time.

Museum admission is open to the public at no cost. It is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and is closed Sundays and major holidays.

The symposium and exhibition are open to the public at no charge. For more information, ca ll (207) 786-6158.


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