Docent Training at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

The view from of the Warehouse District, from the Ogden's second story windows.

Last Tuesday, I began training to become a docent at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. (A docent leads museum tours.) The Ogden focuses on the visual arts and culture of the American South, which they consider to be the 16 states that run west to Oklahoma and Texas; north to D.C., Maryland and Virginia; and east to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the country’s first museum exclusively devoted to Southern art, with the idea being if if there’s such a thing as Southern music and Southern food, how we all don’t know of something called Southern art?  And how do you define Southern art? Well, according to the Ogden, Southern art brings together the diverse expressions of Southern culture that emote the spirit of the region.

This raises the question: How do you define what makes something “Southern?” 

Theorra Hamblett (1895-1977) A Hayride and a Tragedy, 1965, oil on canvas. Collection of the University Museum, University of Mississippi. Bequest of Theora Hamblett. (I took this photo on a visit to the Ogden this summer)

This question was the jumping off point in last week’s training.  How do we define the South and what we thought it means to live here? Through our discussions and a movie called The South as a Sense of Place, that was made specifically for the Ogden (and narrated by Morgan Freeman!) our group filled in some of the blanks. Here are notes from my notes:

What Does the Term “The South” Mean?  What Separates It From the Rest of the Country?

  • The South is as much an idea of place as a place of itself. Calling this large area the South and unifying it under one umbrella smooths over its contradictions and contrasts.
  • The idea of the South is also a political idea, formed by an actual or perceived notion of shared beliefs, values and attitudes.
  • This region has known a different past than the rest of the country and endured different political and social struggles.
  • Southerners derive their identity from their roots, rather from their possessions. It’s an attitude.

What are Characteristics of the South?

  • History: Family life is the center of personal experience
  • Community
  • Hospitality
  • Celebrations
  • Sense of identity, sense of place: It feels different than the rest of the country
  • Connection to a past that in some cases is divisive
  • It’s slow to change
  • There is a lure of decadence
  • Tradition
  • Revelry
  • The fashion is different, often due to the weather
  • Accents
  • Slower pace
  • Religion is much more a part of daily life
  • Region-specific food, music and literature
  • Sports are very important in the south

Archie Bongé (1900-1936) Country Church, 1932, oil on canvas. Gift of the Dusti Bongé Foundation. (I took this photo on a visit to the Ogden this summer)

I took a ton of notes that will definitely serve as a jumping-off point for upcoming blog posts. In the conversations last week we also talked about what makes New Orleans slightly different than the South, but that’s definitely an idea worth exploring.

What do you all (erm, y’all) think? What are other characteristics of the South? Also, what would a museum of Northern art look like? Or a museum of Midwestern art?