A museum that should have an admission charge.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed (and actually learned quite a bit from) the art group I was part of in Vienna, it was always tours of the lesser known collections I preferred. No surprise, then, that I really enjoyed our recent visit to KMA. This is an art museum where the exhibits are actually worth looking at.

The museum had its beginnings in 1961 in a stately house not too far from where we live, so it is a newborn in the museum world. Eventually its collections outgrew the estate and nearly three decades later the new KMA opened in a contemporary building downtown swathed in, what else, Tennessee pink marble.

Upon entering the museum one is first welcomed, and then thanked for visiting. When was the last time anyone was welcomed at the Met? I was fortunate enough to visit the Met when admission was “as you wish,” (now only for NYC residents) and I remember the clerk’s eyeball when I handed over a $10 note, as I only wanted to see a few favorite galleries. Now admission is something crazy like $25, yet the Met is sitting on a massive endowment. Elitists.

But I digress. Tony and I began on the lower level with the Thorne Miniature Rooms. Of the 100 rooms created between 1932 and 1940 by the wealthy Narcissa Thorne from pieces her Navy Admiral uncle sent her from around the world, there are 99 remaining and, crazy enough, I have now seen all but 2 of these rooms. The majority (68) are at the Art Institute of Chicago; 20 are at the Phoenix Museum of Art; and 9 are, thanks to a 1962 gift by IBM, here at the KMA.  The remaining 2 rooms are in Indianapolis and Los Angeles, respectively.

This one is an Early American Dining Room, important because it shows the first American furniture style that was decidedly different from British designs that were all the rage before the original Brexit in 1776.

This is A Majorcan Kitchen. I just liked it.

Loved, loved, loved these pieces from the glass gallery.

Also on the lower level is a current exhibit, Cycle of Life. I may have attended art group for seven years, but I will never understand how artists name their works.

The director of the Knoxville Symphony was inspired by these works to compose a piece, too.

On the third level, a nod to artists of East Tennessee over the last century; many of the pieces bear notes of familiar genres, no?

In the contemporary gallery, a fun take on a painting viewed by ~30.000 people each day.

The “Greenwood Mural,” or History of Tennessee was our favorite. Commissioned by Marion Greenwood of New York (don’t ask me why) in 1954, this mural once decorated the University of Tennessee’s ballroom. For her theme, Ms. Greenwood decided to focus on the state’s musical heritage.

(Psst, KMA. I really dislike how that rock obscures a full reveal of the mural.)

The painting was considered progressive for its Jim-Crow era incorporation of black people. However,  like today’s “woke” coeds, students on the UT campus in the 1970s considered mural for portraying happy, black musicians during the 1950s as racist and a blow to African American’s self worth. So naturally the mural was vandalized. Thankfully the mural was restored, but the History of Tennessee went into hiding for nearly three decades, until an arrangement between the university and the museum brought the mural out from hiding.

At the far left, the delta blues of West Tennessee. Memphis Beale Street jazz musicians play for dancers, the background of riverboats and the booming cotton industry.

The country music of Middle Tennessee. A country square dance takes place in a barn amid bundles of drying tobacco and stalks of sorghum.

Continuing to the right, East Tennessee basket weaving and cotton spinning. A young boy plays the harmonica while a mother covers her child with a homemade quilt.

At the end of the mural, a group sings hymns in front of a clapboard church.

We left the museum rather impressed, and look forward to returning.