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‘Collecting Politic’ convocation marries artistic and historical topics

History and art buffs alike gathered in the Leu Art Gallery Wednesday night to discuss the  power of propaganda and portrayal of the public figure through history.

“Pierce, Schafer, and Sherraden: A Conversation About Political Art,” run by panel members Daniel Schafer of Belmont’s history department, James Pierce of the graphic design department and Jim Sherraden, master printer and curator of Hatch Show Print, focused on various forms of political art in America and Russia, how it was made and the effects that it can have on the public.

The convocation comes after the recent opening of “Collecting Politic,” an exhibit of political artifacts collected by and on loan from former Vice Mayor Ronnie Steine. The collection is currently on display in Gallery 121. Many of its sometimes unusual pieces were included in the night’s discussion.

“I began discovering both pieces of actual campaign material that was created by artists but also art created by artists to make political statements, and marrying all of that together for me has been great fun, and putting together a collection that reflects all of that,” Steine said.

Among those artworks displayed and discussed, artists included Shepard Fairey, Ben Shahn, Alexander Calder and Ernest Hamlin Baker. Media ranged from paintings to free-standing sculptures, including one sculpture planted in a bedpan. Some were focused caricatures of the politicians themselves, meant to make commentary on the issues of the time, while others called for civilian participation in the government, such as Fairey’s “Vote!” poster.

As each piece was displayed via slideshow presentation, the panel members made note of its origins, its intent and its artistic composition, bringing their own perspectives and information to the works. Throughout the evening, the concept of the context of a work was highly stressed: understanding the work not only as a piece of art but as a piece that held significant meaning to the people of the time.

For some of the works, however—as in the case of a caricature of Tennesseean political figure Estes Kefauver riding on a donkey— that context could be lost from the memory of the public.

“I think the larger picture is what we’re able to retain based on how much space there is in a history book. We should all know who Estes Kefauver is. And we don’t,” Sherraden said.

“Collecting Politic” will be on display in Gallery 121 through Dec. 12.

This article was written by Riley Wallace.

Photos: Riley Wallace.

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