Art, Politics, and Moonshine

Upon entering the William King Museum of Art, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

Granted, I’m not much of an art connoisseur. I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between gradient blending and optical color mixing, but I’ve always been told that you don’t have to be an expert to appreciate art. As soon as I stepped foot into the grand opening of The Cherry Bounce Art Show, I found that saying to be immensely accurate.

To coin the experience as unique would be an understatement. Every single piece of work harbored its own personality, yet complimented one another to create an ambience of fine artistry collaborating with political propaganda. Dr. Eric Drummond Smith, assistant professor of political science at UVa-Wise, co-curated the event with The William King Museum of Art in Abingdon, Va.  

“The story begins with a meeting at the William King Museum of Art – a number of artists, patrons of the art and employees of the Museum getting together to discuss future shows,” said Smith on the Cherry Bounce Show’s website. “The topic of the 2016 presidential elections came up and I, being a political scientist and artist, suggested that the museum host a show of political art.  There was a flurry of discussion and I found, at the end, that I’d been made guest curator and told to come up with some ideas to bring back to the folk at the museum for what that show might look like. One idea stuck – the idea for the Cherry Bounce show.”

An authentic show declares an authentic name, which is exactly what Smith accomplished. According to Smith, in the heyday of American elections, Americans treated the day as a holiday.

“When Americans still loved elections, when they celebrated them, Appalachian folk would play music and drink and laugh and sing and dance and eat,” Smith stated. “We would exude joy, save some of our finest recipes for this incredibly special time. One of those was a special kind of whiskey called cherry bounce – a glorious, delicious cordial of moonshine and sugar and cherries that takes ages and patience to make well, but when done constitutes a smooth and wonderful punch that helped hillbilly folk dance and laugh and debate easier, even when their candidates and parties lost the race.”

The intricate process of finding artists consisted of Smith conducting intense research, making sure that every artist was perfect for the project.

“I wasn’t just looking for good artists,” Smith said, “I was looking for outsider art, expressionists and every other type of modern art. I wanted to bring together a show of emotionally powerful art that reflected Appalachia not merely as a place in and of itself, but as a place that was part of the broader human art culture.”  

Although Smith co-curated the event, he was unaware of the type of artwork others would come up with. The gallery contains the work from fifty-six Appalachian artists, including UVa-Wise’s own Misty and Ray Stratton. Smith had selected political art for each American presidential election from the years 1788 to 2012 and told the artists to simply respond to the work. The final result, a collection of artwork that will strike an interminable discussion, is something I encourage everyone to see.

The Cherry Bounce Show will be at the William King Museum of Art in Abingdon, Va until Jan. 2017. The show is free to the public, however, donations to the Museum are accepted. For more information about the show, email Dr. Smith at eds9g@uvawise.edu.

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