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Jonesborough to be first stop of Smithsonian art tour

March 12th, 2014 8:50 am by Max Hrenda

Jonesborough to be first stop of Smithsonian art tour

"Migration Series" by Jacob Lawrence

A Smithsonian Institution traveling arts exhibition may help boost the town of Jonesborough’s already established reputation for storytelling.

In August 2015, the Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum and Archives will serve as the launching point for the national Smithsonian’s traveling art show, “Jacob Lawrence Interprets Aesop’s Fables.”

In 1970, Lawrence — a celebrated 20th century artist — was approached by the publishing firm, Windmill Books/Simon and Shuster, about providing the art for their publication of “Aesop’s Fables,” which includes renowned stories such as “The Tortoise and the Hare,” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” According to the Smithsonian Institute’s website, Lawrence hoped to “extend Aesop’s narratives by visually expounding on the 

Fables’ moral truths,” while, at the same time, merging art and storytelling.

For Deborah Montanti, director of the Heritage Alliance — which operates the museum — that combination of art and storytelling represents an identity with which the town can identify.

“It brings culture and history and community all together in one,” Montanti said. 

Specifically, she cited “the synergy of having a very important 20th century African-American artist’s work dealing with centuries-old storytelling methods in Tennessee’s oldest town. It brings everything that we are together.”

That connection between Jonesborough and storytelling may not have been lost on the Smithsonian. According to Montanti, through the International Storytelling Center — which is a Smithsonian affiliate — the town was contacted by the Smithsonian in 2013 about the possibility of kicking off the exhibition tour with regard to Jonesborough’s proclivity for storytelling.

“The Smithsonian was interested in the connection with storytelling,” Montanti said. “Over the course of probably the past eight months, we’ve negotiated with them, and we are now on schedule to be their premiere site.”

During those eight months, Montanti received some assistance from the local government, which she said was “very instrumental and helpful” in helping to secure the exhibit. In addition to a thorough application process, venue, and fees, Town Administrator Bob Browning said Jonesborough also contended with other, bigger, localities.

“We’re probably the smallest one (that was approached),” Browning said. “Typically, they go to the large communities. I know that San Diego, for example, was on hold for the first opening space of the exhibit. But we ended up going ahead and following through.”

Like the Smithsonian, Browning added there was mutual emphasis placed on having the exhibit in town during the National Storytelling Festival. Although the festival usually takes place in autumn, Browning said the duration of the exhibit should coincide with those dates.

“We specifically wanted to, and they were in favor of, opening in Jonesborough during the National Storytelling Festival,” Browning said. “It’s a 12-week exhibit, so we’ll have it in Jonesborough while the storytelling festival is going on.”

Even though the exhibit is more than a year away, both Browning and Montanti expressed excitement at an opportunity for the town to tell another story.

“It’s certainly an honor for Jonesborough to be considered in that vein with a national tour opening,” Browning said.

“It’s in the really early stages,” Montanti said. “But we’re incredibly excited about that opportunity.”

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