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Carl Morris' "History of Religions" returns to the Barker Gallery at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
Carl Morris, Emerging Units of Light Traverse the Dark, from the series History of Religions, 1959, Oil on canvas, 8 x 10 feet, Gift of the Fine Arts Commission of the Oregon Centennial.
EUGENE, ORE.- The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art once again displays "Carl Morris: History of Religions," an exhibition of nine murals created for Oregon's Centennial Exposition in 1959. The murals are on view in the Coeta and Donald Barker Gallery from December 21, 2012, through January 20, 2013.

The “History of Religions” series was acquired by the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art after the Oregon Centennial Exposition ended and has only been shown once, in 2007, since its inaugural exhibition in 1959. In 2010, the JSMA was the recipient of an IMLS American Heritage Preservation Grant for conservation of the murals.

The 1959 Oregon Centennial Exposition was created to tell "The Oregon Story." One pavilion had the challenging task of representing the history of religious faiths. Carl Morris, arguably Portland’s most accomplished painter at the time, was selected to paint mural panels, each over 8-by-8 feet in size, depicting 100 years of Oregon’s religious history.

Morris, concerned about how to sensitively and accurately represent nearly 200 faith traditions active in the state, focused on what he identified as one common element: the intersection of light and man. He was given only eight weeks to complete the series of paintings before they were installed in the Expo’s Hall of Religions, a ten-sided building designed by architect Ken Richardson in which visitors would be surrounded by the murals. The results of his labor, which evoke the religious experience in Oregon through bold color, expressive gesture, and Morris’s characteristic luminosity, are considered some of the painter’s finest work.

These murals, appropriately monumental in scale, are a series of abstract symbols represented though Morris’ explorations of form, space, light, color and texture. The installation is curated by Danielle Knapp, McCosh fellow curator. Knapp will lead a gallery talk on Wednesday, January 16 at 5:30 p.m.

“He was an exceptional painter, and the work is made even more powerful by the intensity of viewers’ individual responses to it,” says Knapp. “Morris was adamant that art should be experienced, not explained.”

Carl Morris (1911–93) was born in Yorba Linda, California, and received his early art education from master ceramicist Glen Lukens (American, 1887–1967). Upon seeing José Clemente Orozco (Mexican, 1883–1949) at work on his fresco mural “Prometheus” at Pomona College in 1930, Morris dedicated himself to painting. He studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1931 to 1933, before receiving fellowships to paint in France and Austria.

After his return to the United States, Morris was hired as director of the new Spokane Arts Center and was later awarded a Public Works of Art Project commission for two murals in the Eugene Post Office. This significant achievement convinced Morris and his wife, sculptor Hilda Grossman (American, 1911–91), to settle permanently in Portland, though both maintained ties to their artistic circles in Grossman’s hometown of New York City. At mid-century, as he moved away from figurative art and his style became increasingly abstract, Morris continued to draw his inspiration from the geography and atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest. Morris passed away in 1993.





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