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High Museum of Art receives Henry Church sculpture from Forward Arts Foundation
Henry Church (1836–1908), A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed, 1888, sandstone and iron. High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

ATLANTA.- Rand Suffolk, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director of the High Museum of Art, announced today that the Forward Arts Foundation has enabled the important acquisition of the Henry Church, Jr., masterpiece “A Friend in Need Is a Friend Indeed” (1888).

The Forward Arts Foundation made this generous gift in celebration of its 50th anniversary and to highlight 50 years of supporting the Museum’s growth via acquisitions and investments in programming. The Foundation purchased Church’s work from Atlanta collectors Carl and Marian Mullis, and it will feature prominently in the reinstallation of the High’s folk and self-taught art collection galleries, set to debut in October 2018.

“We are incredibly grateful to the Forward Arts Foundation for its generosity, which allows us to bring this one-of-a-kind work into our collection,” said Suffolk. “We’re thrilled that this extraordinary object will remain at the High and inspire and excite generations of Atlantans to come.”

“The generous contribution of this work will provide for a vital moment within our forthcoming reinstallation of the collections, reflecting a broader appreciation and understanding of the sculptural traditions of 19th-century American art, of which self-taught work plays a leading and integral role,” said Kevin W. Tucker, the High’s chief curator.

Founded in 1965 by 12 visionary and community-minded Atlanta women, the Forward Arts Foundation enriches the greater Atlanta community by promoting and supporting the visual arts. The Foundation operates the Swan Coach House in Buckhead, which houses and manages a restaurant, gift shop and art gallery. The Foundation’s Community Grants Program provides grants to non-profit organizations that promote the visual arts through programs, exhibitions, research, education, acquisition of works of art and public outreach that benefit the greater Atlanta community. Over the past half century, the Foundation has supported the acquisition of 10 important works in the High’s collection, including some of the Museum’s most noteworthy Impressionist paintings by artists including Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt and Camille Pissarro. This sculpture is its first purchase for the High’s folk and self-taught art department.

Forward Arts Foundation Chairman Betsy West said, “The rare iron and sandstone sculpture titled ‘A Friend in Need Is a Friend Indeed’ was selected as a gift to the High Museum of Art to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Forward Arts Foundation. Though our organization has given significantly to many arts groups over the years, the Foundation felt it appropriate to celebrate this milestone by making a gift to our original home, the High Museum, which holds one of the most important collections of self-taught art in the country.”

Henry Church, Jr. (American, 1836–1908), trained as a blacksmith and sign painter in his hometown of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and his primary trades led to exceptional artistic achievements despite a lack of academic art training. “A Friend in Need Is a Friend Indeed” is the largest and most complex freestanding sculpture by Church known to exist. More than 4 feet tall and 7 feet long, the sculpture depicts a shepherd safeguarding a lamb from a lunging mountain lion, who is in turn being attacked by the shepherd’s dog. The sculpture’s references are both religious and social, as Church and his family provided safe haven to enslaved African Americans escaping to freedom before Emancipation. Made from a single slab of sandstone and two iron components Church cast separately, the sculpture is carved in the round, providing multiple viewing angles.

The sculpture is Church’s best-known work, and it has been featured in important exhibitions including the 1998 survey “Self-Taught Artists of the Twentieth Century,” which traveled to Atlanta and across the United States. Since 2010, “A Friend in Need” has been on loan to the High from the Mullises, who have a nationally renowned collection of folk and self-taught art and have donated hundreds of works to the High Museum of Art and Georgia Museum of Art collections since the 1990s.

“This magnificent sculpture provides us with a vital historical precedent to our contemporary self-taught holdings by exemplifying the longstanding tradition of untutored genius in the United States,” said Katherine Jentleson, the High’s Merrie and Dan Boone curator of folk and self-taught art. “Over the years it has become a favorite for visitors of all ages, but especially for our school and family audiences, who connect with the work’s dramatic narrative, subject matter and socially responsible message. We are so thankful to the Forward Arts Foundation for giving this important work a permanent home at the High.”

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