De Buck Gallery is honored to announce that the Huntington Museum of Art has acquired a work by Baltimore artist Stephen Towns for its permanent collection. The museum, located in Huntington, West Virginia, acquired one of Towns’ most exquisite works, After the Shift, this spring.
The work is part of the larger Coal Miner Series, a collection of six works inspired by Towns’s exploration of the harsh labor practices in the early 20th century in the United States. The artist stresses that Black miners were often relegated to the most underpaid and dangerous jobs. Both Paul Nyden’s Black Coal Miners in the United States and James Green’s The Devil Is Here in These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom served as reference materials for these works.
The faces in the works were sourced from archival images from West Virginia History Archives. These men are portrayed stoically, as if the works serve as monuments praising the American worker. The sparkling black mica worked into the surface of the canvas surrounds the figures, both symbolizing the coal mines and ennobling the subjects while the American flag flanks each figure.
While many of his portraits incorporate butterflies, a practice Towns started after reading Toni Morrison’s novels which included the magical realism of bugs and birds as symbols of metamorphosis and endurance, Towns incorporates yellow canaries in his Coal Miner Series. As canaries were often brought in to warn miners of toxic gasses, the yellow canaries surrounding each figure in these works act as protectors.
After the Shift was most recently included in the Westmoreland Museum of American Art’s solo exhibition Stephen Towns: Declaration & Resistance, which closed in early May 2022. Along with several others from his Coal Miner Series, the work highlighted the exhibitions themes of labor as it relates to resistance and endurance and the role African Americans have played in shaping the American economy.
“A lot of this work is about labor and when I first began making artwork about slavery and enslaved labor…I wanted to take sort of a turn and talk about labor post slavery, post the Civil War.
In a lot of the paintings I’ve been using the American flag, because for Black people…it has been weaponized, it’s dangerous. A lot of the work in this show is about me embracing it, and embracing the Americanness of me, and who I am, sort of a ‘take back of the flag’ and say, ‘this flag belongs to me, too.’”
Read more from the dialogue highlights here.
The Huntington Museum of Art is a public museum and cultural center. Formally known as the Huntington Galleries, it was incorporated in 1947 and open to the public in 1952. The museum’s mission is to acquire and display objects of art, provide excellence in education and arts experience, expand its service population and maintain its plant conservatory.
The Huntington Museum holds a permanent art collection of more than 16,000 objects as well as an art reference library of nearly 27,000 volumes. De Buck Gallery is thrilled to have Stephen Towns’ work join to this collection. The museum, furthermore, is the only nationally accredited visual arts museum of its size in the Tri-State region.