Seeking Truth in the Valentine’s New Exhibition
‘Sculpting History at the Valentine Studio: Art, Power, and the “Lost Cause” American Myth’
A new exhibition at the Valentine museum’s Edward Valentine Sculpture Studio showcases the sculptor’s art and shows how it helped glorify the Confederacy and elevate the iconography of the Lost Cause mythology. “Sculpting History at the Valentine Studio: Art, Power, and the ‘Lost Cause’ American Myth” opens to the public on Jan. 26, 2024.
Edward Valentine (1838-1930) was a Richmond sculptor and the first president of the Valentine Museum. The exhibition is based in his 600-square-foot studio. A multimedia presentation projects onto a wall. It showcases 84 of Edward Valentine’s works, a wall of busts that tells the history of the sculptor and his work of disseminating the Lost Cause narrative, as well as photographs and archival materials.
Throughout the presentation choreographed lights illuminate works that help tell the deeper stories, answering the questions that lie beneath the exhibition:
- How does fiction become an accepted truth?
- How can someone believe a lie?
- How do history and art influence politics and power?
The exhibition has been in the making for more than three years of development, aiming to address those questions and explore the Lost Cause, its legacy, and those who resisted the myth.
“By looking closely at the art of Edward V. Valentine and its historical, political, and social contexts, both on a local and national level, we see evidence of the power and the process through which imagery reinforces ideology,” says “Sculpting History” co-curator Dr. Kate Sunderlin, “We show what was (and is) at stake for those promoting Lost Cause mythology and those working to dismantle it.”
The Valentine enlisted the input of multiple groups to craft the new exhibition. It conducted a region-wide survey, hosted focus groups, and engaged a panel of scholars to consider the possibilities for the studio space. It hired New York-based architecture firm Studio Joseph and co-curators Josh Epperson and Kate Sunderlin to give life to the vision. It worked collaboratively with internal and external partners to hone the themes, language, object list and design concepts.
“Designing through the lens of community during this process has helped unearth missing voices that mainstream society and history have sought to erase,” says Wendy Evans Joseph, founding partner of Studio Joseph.
“Sculpting History” is divided into five themes – education, violence, religion, money and politics, and media (art and mass media) – highlighting the cultural and social centers of power that disseminated the Lost Cause myth.
Though not chronological, each section addresses the 1800s to today so visitors can connect the present with the past.
“What’s the point in telling history if it doesn’t do something to inform the way we live today, and in the future,” asks “Sculpting History” co-curator Josh Epperson. “In this exhibition we use plain language to describe how people built systems, created lies, and spent tons of money to create the reality of the south we know. But we also allow viewers to reflect on what choices they can make in their own world to build the future they want. We can’t forget that our society was shaped with intention, it wasn’t an accident.”
In addition to changing public memory of the Civil War, supporters of the Lost Cause also advanced disenfranchisement, segregation, and violence as tools to support the myth.
“We’ve been able to use the museum’s robust collection of primary sources, including the historic studio structure, to show how this campaign expanded into a larger movement,” says Christina Vida, Valentine Studio Project Manager, “and also share how locals resisted this false narrative from the 1860s through to today.”
“This exhibition is asking: how do we know what’s true?” says Valentine Director Bill Martin. “But it’s not just about the questions, it’s about providing a framework to begin our journey of discovery and understanding.”
Does the story behind Edward Valentine’s sculptures connect with today? Explore the exhibition for answers.
“Sculpting History at the Valentine Studio: Art, Power, and the ‘Lost Cause’ American Myth”
1015 E. Clay St., Richmond
Information and quotes from a Valentine press release, Jan. 22, 2024.