Helen Lineberry: Notes for an Art History — Part 5

Pictured above on the left is a portrait Helen made of her husband, Albert Lineberry Sr. believed to be made with ink and gouache on paper. On the right is a photograph taken of Helen as new mother in Asheville, NC.

By the 1950s, another vector of critical debate is signaled in portraiture: namely, Helen’s simultaneous work as mother, wife, and artist, which necessarily includes overseeing household operations and the work of child-rearing. Second wave feminist artists, performers, filmmakers, and scholars of the 1960s and 70s would challenge or possibly model ways out of gendered domestic labor. As a potential precursor cultivated in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s Helen’s studio practice sets part of the second wave feminist stage through a slightly anticipatory – though not necessarily “liberatory” – model: can art itself become a viable part of life informed by gendered domestic labor? The “pedestrian” quality of some of Helen’s work requires close revisitation.

Lucy R. Lippard asserts in her 1978 “Something from Nothing (Toward a Definition of Women’s ‘Hobby Art’)”:

“Now that the homebound woman has a little more leisure, thanks to so-called labour-saving devices, her pastimes are more likely to be cultural in character.” Lippard does not shy away from the class dynamics which underwrite her statement. Squaring Helen into this camp, Lippard states that middle- and upper-class women — needless to say white women — have a demographic track record in their support and need (Lippard’s word) of aesthetic experiences “in the broadest sense more than men – perhaps because the vital business of running the world, for which educated women have, to some extent, been prepared, has been denied them; and because they have the time and background to think – but not the means to act.” As Helen was married to prominent civic and business leader, Albert Lineberry Sr., Lippard’s hypothesis might bear some truth. I would argue Helen used art to fortify herself within her given circumstances. To say nothing of Lippard’s opinion on working-class women, I believe her assessment to be true of Helen’s work as a member of “the comfortable classes.” However, it’s imperative to note this comfort did not live in a vacuum and that the time and space to perform creative work requires an acknowledgment here of the oft-invisibilized labor of Black women employed for help in the domestic spheres of Helen’s life and home, particularly in the segregated Jim Crow South.

Nonetheless, the notion of work for privileged white women such as Helen retained the feminized shape of patriarchy. As evidence of this strata of labor, the roles of mother and wife seemed to deeply influence the subjects Helen engaged in her art practice. Many of the questions feminist artists would ask about the space between art and life such as Mierle Laderman Ukeles, are present to a degree in Helen’s work reflected not only in her portraits, but as well as scenes of domestic interior still lives. The literal structure of these interiors often incorporate architectural details. The images above, though, are portraits Helen made of each of her five children, made in both Asheville and later Greensboro. One is an incomplete painting and is the only known work thought to be of her oldest son, Albert Lineberry Jr; however, this is not to suggest that another more complete work was never made. The ongoing dialogue with family about documentation, much less cataloguing, Helen’s work remains in flux. Another image featuring a portrait of Helen’s second-youngest, Tommy, was taken and edited from a recent eBay auction from which it was later removed.

Pictured above is a photo from Asheville Citizen-Times, depicting Helen Lineberry with a commissioned portrait she painted of the late W.E. Sweatt, former superintendent of the now-shuttered Alexander School in Union Mills, NC. Sweat was killed in a school shooting in 1951. You can read about the school’s history and some information about Sweatt here. A curious legal case around liability and compensation for Sweatt’s death can be found in Sweatt vs. Board of Education. Whereabouts of Helen’s portrait of Sweatt are currently unknown, as this is the only documentation available. Portraiture in Helen’s oeuvre indicated an arguably unprecedented shift in intimacy with her subjects.

Helen appeared to gain an interest in portraiture as way to stake out her position within her own community. Above is an image from Asheville Citizen-Times March 25, 1954 (left) for a portrait exhibit at Little Art Gallery, 10 Wall St. in downtown Asheville, NC. The gallery is no longer there and is now Purls’ Yarn Emporium. Featured on the right of the image is Helen Lineberry posing with her portrait of Mrs. Schmidt. Next to the image is the portrait itself. According to the family, Mrs. Schmidt immigrated from Russia and lived close by, sitting regularly for this portrait – the exact intentions or motives by Helen, however, remain subject to speculation. Regarding Helen’s exhibition of her work, local and family lore has it that when living in Greensboro, Helen brought work to the Weatherspoon Art Gallery – now Weatherspoon Museum – for a show. Upon arriving with the work, it is said the exhibition’s jury didn’t believe the work could have been made by Helen due to its perceived high quality. Helen took the piece back and refused to show it saying that that was all the recognition she needed.

Helen Lineberry: Notes for an Art History – Part 4

During World War II, Helen and many other women were suddenly called to the workforce as men served in the U.S. Military. Helen remained in Asheville and went to work as an office clerk in the downtown Grove Arcade, which remains there to this day. An abundance of letters between Helen and Albert now sit in family albums. Those exchanges often included postcards of single panel cartoons illustrating Helen’s misadventures during the war, often by way of a character she titled “The War Widow” or “Just a War Widow.” The cartoons tended to feature scenes of interior domestic life or of her work life at the downtown Grove Arcade. While many of the situations in Helen’s cartoons fret over absent men away at war, such as Albert who was stationed in Lebanon, Tennessee (a recurring reference in the cartoons), many of the workplace experiences Helen depicted echoed newer developments in homosocial spaces for women to interact with each other, first discussed in Part 2 regarding Helen’s education. Further correlation to Helen’s inspiration may likely be found through a more precise listing of comic strip runs in local publication like the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Other drawings Helen sent to Albert were on bigger paper and included exaggerated cartoon depictions of feminine ideals. While Helen’s drawings during the war certainly reflect her training in art and fashion, they also quite literally put forth caricatures of white femininity, some of which remain aspirational while others are challenged or mocked. All of these changing relations of work, war, and labor continue the notion from part 2 that Helen was a “modern” artist in her own right. Another curiosity about these cartoons as artifacts is that they are cross-wired in the throes of intimate exchanges during war. What are now pasted in albums considered a private “civilian” context suggest public distribution from their newspaper-inspired format.

After the war, Helen continued to make art under the conditions of married domestic life and the new mantle of motherhood, which undoubtedly continued to profoundly transform her work. Stay tuned for the next post!

Helen Lineberry: Notes for an Art History – Part 3

After graduating from the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (present-day University of North Carolina at Greensboro) in 1940, Helen Gaines Howerton (later Helen Lineberry) attended now-defunct Traphagen School of Fashion in New York City. A recent 2019 exhibition at Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), Traphagen School: Fostering American Fashion, created a survey of the Traphagen School and its influence on fashion in the early-to- mid-20th century. While Traphagen and her school were immensely influential to fashion all over the U.S. and the world, the historical and cultural frame of her “costume design” course materials promoted a Eurocentric and white supremacist view typical for the time from when it was originally written in the 1920s. Briefly noted in the object labels of the FIT Traphagen School exhibition, cultural appropriation also contributed to the college’s philosophies. In general, however, Helen’s time at Traphagen School remains another flash point for ongoing research around her work. Helen designed and made some her own clothes, of which only one dress remains in family possession.

After her time in New York, Helen moved back to Asheville, NC and married her husband, Albert Lineberry Sr. in 1942. Helen’s fashion skills reportedly landed her occasional jobs in Asheville illustrating advertisements for local department stores. However, no official documentation of this has yet been found. Marketing and profiting from skills learned at Traphagen squares with the school’s notable ability to teach industry self-promotion to its students.

The development of her fashion skills coincides with a construction of white femininity: an anxiety noted by queer theorist Jasbir Puar while doing a studio visit with me while I was a graduate student at Hunter College. Helen’s engagement with the white female figure goes back well into her childhood drawings discussed in Part 1: a familiarity and identification with dominant imagery that simultaneously remains uneasy. Many of the subjects from Helen’s childhood persisted into her adulthood, particularly regarding fashion. Inextricably tied to her own self-understanding, Helen transforms her use of the white female figure using cartoon and caricature during World War II.

Helen Lineberry: Notes for an Art History – Part 2

Image: Asheville Citizen-Times, September 13, 1936 .

In high school during the Great Depression, Helen Lineberry (then Helen Howerton) took classes at the WPA art center in Asheville, NC. While we know a great deal in general about the WPA (Works Progress Administration) program established under the Roosevelt, I have yet to find a great deal about this particular art center in Asheville where Helen learned skills in fashion drawing. I also have yet to find information about Helen’s teacher, Eadie Heyman. According to the newspaper article above, around 300 students enrolled in Asheville’s WPA art center, 40 of whom were reported to be studying fashion drawing. Because so little is currently known about the art center, I cannot confirm whether or not it was racially integrated, but the context of Asheville’s Jim Crow order of the time strongly suggests it was. Government subsidy of segregated art education is but another factor in understanding how privilege and inequity compound in 20th century visual arts and into the present. Evidence of Helen’s time at Asheville’s WPA art center is significant for tracking her later education at the now-defunct Traphagen School in New York City.

After high school, Helen briefly attended St. Genevieve-of-the-Pines College in her hometown of Asheville. The campus site became part of what is now Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College while the later iterations of St. Genevieve was ultimately absorbed by Carolina Day School. While there, Helen appeared in another newspaper article for participation in a school function. The advertisement was placed directly next to an announcement for the Black Mountain Woman’s Club featuring a talk by Anni Albers with other local groups like Penland and Montreat Normal School. While there is no evidence that Helen ever interacted with Black Mountain College, it is significant that she lived in Asheville and made art simultaneous and adjacent to it. The potential for a history such as Black Mountain College to eclipse other local narratives such as Helene’s has been the subject of a working paper for the Journal of Black Mountain College Studies, “Black Mountain College: Eclipsing the Local in Artworld Memory”, currently undergoing intense edits.

Image: Asheville Citizens-Times, October 26, 1937, provided courtesy of the Anne Chesky Smith and Swannanoa Valley Museum.

After two years at St. Genevieve-of-the-Pines, Helen transferred to the Woman’s College of the University of the University of North Carolina [now present-day University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG)]. It was here that Helen began to make work that defined her entry into adulthood as an artist.

The above images were likely created by Helen Lineberry (then Howerton) in 1938 at the Woman’s College (WC) of the University of North Carolina during the art department’s inaugural programming at the Beaufort Art Colony with Professor Gregory Ivy. For those unfamiliar with the geography of North Carolina, this meant that inland students of the Piedmont Triad in Greensboro at the WC traveled to the coastal town of Beaufort to study art, which was several hours away by car.

From Daniel Belasco’s essay in the catalogue for Central to their Lives: Southern Women Artists from the Johnson Collection titled “Eyes Wide Open: Modernist Women Artists in the South,” the author revisits Southern women artists within art historical conceptions of Modernism. Belasco’s “ism” of Modern and his genealogy of feminist traditions may require extra attention, but he lays some helpful groundwork. Graduating in 1940 from the Woman’s College (W.C.) of the University of North Carolina (present-day UNCG), Helen Howerton Lineberry fits into a timeline of what Belasco would consider the second generation of modernist women artists in the South. As evidenced above by her formal experimentation with landscape through geometric and gestural abstraction, Helen’s education promoted engagement with growing trends in the emergent field of Modern art, particularly under the tutelage of Ivy, who has proclaimed influence by surrealism and Cubism in philosophy and style. While multiple contexts and historical events corroborate Helen as a “modern” artist, her schooling is of particular note in establishing her practice. As Belasco writes:

“The second generation of Southern women modern artists – those born in the early twen- tieth century – was more ethnically diverse than its predecessor and included women of African-American, Jewish, and other backgrounds. They came from middle- and upper-class families and did not need to travel to Europe to pursue advanced art education, World War II having made such journeys impossible. The importance of Southern institutions of higher learning cannot be overstated. Little in mainstream culture encouraged women to excel in the visual arts beyond producing practical handicrafts or visionary folk art. Only colleges and universities provided opportunities for professional development in the arts. Once larger numbers of women began teaching in degree-granting art programs in the 1920s, they were able to mentor young women and establish new female-to-female lineages that would expand what was once an exclusively male and white heritage.” (page 54)

Of both generations of modern women artists in the South, Belasco qualifies: “Southern women overcame low expectations of their ability to make fine art of consequence. They were often born to money and benefited from familial status and racial privilege.” (page 53: “racial,” read: “white.”)

Helen Howerton made this lithograph print from a drawing taken on the front porch of a dormitory house on Wilson Avenue in Greensboro’s College Hill district. An excerpt of the description on the back of it states: “1938 – Women’s Dormitory at Women’s College N.C. (W.C.) Porch where we moved our beds outside –
we slept – studied – enjoyed the rain and the snow…”
The sense of freedom and camaraderie are palpable.

Of particular interest to Helen’s work is a reflection of women’s higher educationopening up potentials for homosocial interaction. The word homosocial is used here in its broadest and most literal sense. However, of the many possibilities for new exchanges from unprecedented interactions between women – such as Belasco’s identification of female-to-female art lineages in Southern higher education – were also the homosexual. While Helen regaled me with fond tales of skinny dipping with her female art friends at the Beaufort Art Colony (also on record in a 1990 oral history transcript by UNCG), she was not necessarily involved in the latter sexual extension of the homo. Having attended the Woman’s College of North Carolina for her MFA within ten years of Helen’s graduation, critic Jill Johnston reflects from her seminal autobiographical 1973 work, Lesbian Nation:

“But we were certainly a bunch of wonderful bandits in north carolina. The place we all ended up that year was the women’s college in greensboro where apparently many young women flocked from all over the carolinas to study mostly home economics. The bunch I fell in with were the sensitive fucked up poet and painter types, a readymade contingent of tightlipped lesies, a whole nest of queers.”

To reiterate, I am not suggesting Helen was a lesbian. And as Johnston conveys elsewhere in her text, the atmosphere of the school still remained conservative and, important to emphasize, racially segregated. Johnston still points to the fact that Helen gained her formal art training in a space where women could relate to one another in new and profound ways. Circling back to Belasco’s assertions, perhaps we call the situation of these new relations “modern.”

Helen Lineberry: Notes for an Art History – Part 1

As you’ll notice in my introductory post, my thesis work incorporates imagery derived from the 1929 drawings created by a 10-year-old Helen Lineberry (then Helen Howerton), who also happened to be my grandmother. These images were incorporated from an ongoing project which sought to aggregate and develop the legacy of Helen Lineberry’s lifetime of artwork in her own right. While it continues to influence my own practice as part of a “kinstitutional” investigation, Helen’s work also deserves its own space. Begun in summer 2018, I started documenting as much of her work as I could find, having successfully captured images from three of her five children. Below are images from her childhood notebook. You may view the complete file here. It’s a rather large file but I believe worth one’s patience to download. If you would like to acquire a printed and bound version of the notebook, please feel free to email me: Topher.lineberry@gmail.com. I am also interested in talking more with libraries and archives that may be interested in documents such as a facsimile of Helen’s childhood notebook.

From the 1929 notebook, it is clear that Helen consumed images of women from mass media of the time: print such as newspapers, books, and pulps; radio; silent film and later talking pictures. Childhood depictions of cowboys, gentlemen, flappers, pilots, cowgirls, princesses, teachers, women lounging and smoking cigarettes, et al. evidence Helen’s own cultural landscape of gendered ideals. Lineberry’s drawings reflect her own contemporary popular myths of femininity. Within and in-between these myths, however, Helen Lineberry provides psychic insight into underlying social and interpersonal tensions: a profile figure of a girl slapping a male figure in the face (a sectioned-off ballerina dances underneath); a woman hitting her husband in the head with a rolling pin after cutting her hair short (en vogue with the flapper’s cutting of historically long female hair as a symbol of independence); a male figure bucked into the air by a horse, the impact marked by a streaming cartoon cluster of multi-colored stars; a woman tied up and blindfolded. Pictorial hints of her social and economic status are found in some of the details of an “everyday”: bedrooms, shoes, clothes, bathtubs, diving and swimming, make-up rituals.

Helen was the only girl amongst her siblings, growing up with several brothers on an Asheville estate. Their life in the early twentieth century reverberated many developments of the “American Gilded Age”: termed by historians from the Roaring Twenties in which Helen lived her formative childhood years. She was born the year before the 19th Amendment culminated the women’s suffrage movement, coming into an unprecedented landscape of gender and identity in the 1920s and beyond. It was a time in which the “New Woman” came into being. As discussed in “Suffrage, Social Activism, and Women Artists of the South” by Evie Terrano in the exhibition catalogue for Central to their Lives about the developments of the 1910s, the “New Woman” – such as that typified by the South Carolina branch of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage – “…was often associated with leftist radicalism and was striving toward equal rights and sexual liberation.” (p. 30)

While Helen may not have been directly involved in later iterations of such politics, namely feminisms of the latter 20th century, the suffrage movement and the cultural transformations around it undoubtedly cleared many paths for her life, and in treading them cleared paths for others. The cultural and social ideas of femininity Helen came into grappled with tradition amidst the momentum of women’s rights benefited by mostly white, wealthy spheres, which continued to play out in American and European landscapes. These ideas contain many patriarchal mechanisms for the expectation of women. The context of what scholar Sarah Haley calls “Jim Crow Modernity” contributes to how we evaluate Helen’s work within broader constructions of “white woman” as a subject under what many consider to be an era of U.S. apartheid. However, family members also posit Helen had to fight for her own femininity in a male-dominated environment, and she used art and culture as one of many ways to do it. Economic gains during the roaring twenties corresponded to the continued gains after the women’s suffrage movement. Women’s contributions to the market as workers and producers – underpaid or not at all – were more formally met with validation as consumers. Such validation has historically been key to expanding and containing democratic recognition in the U.S., rather than a purely “civic” or “civil” ideal of democracy. Mass production and hard-fought social and political gains led to women holding unprecedented power as buyers in the early 20th Century: seen in part through emerging modern women’s fashion, to which Helen Gaines Howerton Lineberry was quite adept.

Southern Architecture, Beverly Buchanan, and William Christenberry

Topher Lineberry, “Krispy Kreme, Winston-Salem, NC,” mixed media on paper, 12″ x 9″, 2018
Topher Lineberry, “Cook Out, Boone, NC,” mixed media on paper, 12″ x 9″, 2018

In graduate school I began to reckon more with the specters of homophobia in the Southern architectures. Above are but two examples. The Krispy Kreme in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (the first of the donut chain in the nation) has been rumored by local gay lore to have been a popular cruising site in the mid-to-latter 20th century. The Cook Out in Boone, NC next to Appalachian State University was the site of an argument in 2012 which lead to a gay-bashing at another location. I have become increasingly interested in architectures which demonstrate violence and/or resilience to what has historically been a hostile environment for queer folks. I continue to research these histories and have several structures/sites that I have yet to activate or respond to.

The study of Southern architecture has rich precedent in contemporary art. As I almost intuitively arrived at a similar aesthetic milieu, the work of Beverly Buchanan and William Christenberry have become important touchstones. While both artists have had their own distinct careers, their work was also exhibited together at Andrew Edlin Gallery in 2017. Both artists walk the line of participating in a “contemporary art discourse” while never betraying a sense of self rooted in the aesthetics and politics of place. From a detail below, it is also important that Buchanan links this to Southern traditions of folk art. As with myself, both artists spent time in New York but made it a personal and political point to “return” to the South. As I’m also from Greensboro, NC (Christenberry’s featured work here is about a different Greensboro in Alabama), Buchanan’s tenure as an artist inspires me as she was involved in civil rights activism in the 1960s and an alum of Bennett College. A performance by Buchanan reflecting on this experience with her sculpture is posted below. While Buchanan and Christenberry are most unified by their sculpture, their respective practices also diverge overall in relationship to media: Buchanan ranging from drawing, photography, performance, installation (her work can no longer be ignored when revisiting the 1970s “land art” movement) while Christenberry otherwise is mostly known for his photography.

When I first created the above drawings, it reminded me that in my own speech I purged a southern accent long ago, but that an aesthetic subterranean twang persisted. This first led me to resentment, as so many people – particularly queer people – do their best to leave the South behind after leaving, at least not let it continue to define them. I think something caught up with me, though. Throughout the rest of graduate school I worked on architectonic sculptures and forms, culminating in my graduate thesis work. While I certainly and explicitly chose to converse this emergent style with folk and outsider art (however tensely or critically), there was also a contradictory need to “plug it in” to a larger system of signification, to “unstick it” from the South as much as it also claimed its roots there.

Beverly Buchanan, Blue Sky Shack, Oil Pastel on Paper, 38 X 50 Inches, 1988
Beverly Buchanan, Blue Sky Shack, 1988 (detail) – Transcribed: “When I was living and making work in New York, the work was very different from what it is now physically to me as to others. As a Southern artist, I found that I was interested in the work of folk artists and began talking with them and discovered that some of my ideas about returning to a “simple” uncomplicated look in my own work, were shared with them. I think that artists in the South must confront, at some point, the work of folk artists, not necessarily in their own work but rather in the idea that the folk artist sees and experiences the same source – food, dirt, sky, reclaimed land, development, violence, guns, ghosts, etc… Nellie Mae Rowe’s home (a favorite folk artist of mine) was engulfed in a magic forest of her work. Every surface of her work had a mark from her hand. The simple chewing gum works convinced me that gum could never just be chewing gum again. My work attempts to celebrate the spirit of these shack dwellers who could be recognized by what they wore, how they walked, and by the kinds of flowers they grew in their front yards.”
Beverly Buchanan, “House of Scraps,” 18.5″ X 20.5″ X 17″, wood, copper, 2011
Beverly Buchanan, “Out of Control” Postcard, 1991. From the Brooklyn Museum’s Tumblr: “Taken in the backyard of her home in Athens, Georgia, a series of photographs document a private performance in which Beverly Buchanan burned some of her wood shack sculptures. Buchanan connected these performative burnings with the racial violence she encountered as a student protestor in Greensboro, North Carolina, in the early 1960s.
William Christenberry, “Coleman’s Cafe, Greensboro, Alabama,” archival pigment print, 1973
William Christenberry, “Coleman’s Cafe (I)”, mixed media, painted wood, and clay soil, 18 3/8″ x 25 3/4″ x 36 1/2″, 1982

“You Got to Move” — Appalachian Folk Schools

1958 Map of Highlander Folk School at its original location. Image courtesy of Phillip MacDonald for the UNC Southern Folklife Collection blog.

Education in the U.S. mountain South has long been a terrain of state neglect. Adopting the “folk school” model from Denmark and other Scandinavian countries for American purposes, ground-up education by and for the people living in so-called Appalachia marks a particular set of contributions toward social and political change. One notable folk school, Highlander Folk School, stands out among many in its mission to restructure the standing and collective empowerment of mountain folks by and for themselves. According to Vicky Eiben, folk school philosophies have been an important counterpoint to nationalism as a unifying force.

The above linked trailer is for a documentary directed by Lucy Massie Phenix called “You Got to Move.” You can rent or purchase the whole film here. The film is one of the most direct ways to learn about Highlander Folk School’s history. Opened in 1932, Highlander has also focused on civil rights, labor rights and unionizing, literacy, strip-mining, pollution, immigration, and LGBTQ+ issues. Because it seemed so agitative to the Jim Crow order, in 1961 backlash by the state of Tennessee closed the Highlander Folk School after the school successfully provided training and education to many of the prominent leaders of the Civil Right Movement, many of whom are now household names like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr, and John Lewis. The school reopened in a new location under the name Highlander Research and Education Center. In 2019, Highlander’s main offices and part of its archive were set on fire and vandalized with white supremacist symbols painted on the pavement nearby.

One of the women featured prominently in the film is Bernice Johnson Reagon, whose accomplishments are innumerable in activism, scholarship, and artistic contributions. Reagon’s transcribed talk from the 1981 West Coast Women’s Music Festival, “Coalition Politics: Turning the Century,” was referenced in Martine Syms’ piece, “Intro to Threat Modeling,” included in the 2019 Whitney Biennial. In the work, Syms mentions the Reagon text as part of a “theorizing against safe spaces.” In what can be inferred from Reagon’s conception of a safe space (the term is not used but the concept is), she argues that the kind of logic which produces this sense of “safety” also becomes its own form of nationalism, while by effect also leaves “XYZ group” (Reagon’s term) even more vulnerable. This helps Syms advocate instead for “threat modeling” as a means of creating informed and empowering decisions, particularly as Reagon is very clear about coalitions as both necessary and dangerous if not, as Syms implies, threatening.

Highlander has been one of many flash points in writing an article currently under review with the editors of the Journal of Black Mountain College Studies. My article, titled “Black Mountain College: Eclipsing the Local in Artworld Memory” attempts to make in-roads between an elite metropolitan-centered art world which is inept at folding in the contributions of “place” by way of western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and broader conceptions of Appalachia into its beloved “gee whizz” crucible of American modernism and mid-century art star circuitry (AKA Black Mountain College). In somewhat of a transversal, the field of Appalachian studies has been hesitant to wholeheartedly embrace the legacy of Black Mountain College as one of its own, despite the school fitting into a larger constellation of progressive and experimental pedagogy in the region, most obvious being its nearby folk schools. Black Mountain College was certainly unique, but it was not necessarily exceptional. In addition to currently undergoing edits with the journal, the article has been accepted for presentation at this year’s reVIEWing conference at University of North Carolina at Asheville, which is relatively near the former site of Black Mountain College. Hope to share more updates about it soon!

I also have a grant proposal I’ve been trying to get funded, which involves touring Appalachian folk schools and then going to Denmark and touring folk schools there. If you are interested in the kind of work I plan to make from this traveling, how it might benefit or bolster awareness of important overlooked community work, or how you might be able to financially support, please email me: topher.lineberry@gmail.com. However, information about this particular dream might seep out on its own if you stick around <3.

“Blue Ridge, Lavender Marks” — Revisiting Warhol’s Photographs in the Turchin Center’s Permanent Collection

Fire Island Party I (from Blue Ridge, Lavender Marks) – Enlarged 30” x 20” print made from scan of mixed media on laserprint photograph, 2019
Fire Island Party II (from Blue Ridge, Lavender Marks) – Enlarged 30” x 20” print made from scan of mixed media on laserprint photograph, 2019

After my first rejection from the Turchin Center for Visual Arts at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, I became curious in works by queer artists in their permanent collection. What I found through ARTSTOR were a series of Andy Warhol photographs donated to the Turchin and other underserved art institutions in 2007 by the Warhol Foundation. Setting aside kneejerkin eyerolls from invoking Andy Warhol’s work for those privileged enough to be jaded about it, this became a significant anchor in developing new work: bootlegging Warhol’s photographs from the Turchin’s collection on ARTSTOR – many of them explicitly queer – haptically responding to, decorating, and layering onto them. Once finished with these works I hope to donate prints to the Turchin and propose a two-person show with Andy Warhol. 

This work also prompted me to investigate “Pop Out: Queer Warhol” edited by José Esteban Muñoz with contributions by many authors. I have been inspired by some of the essays, one of which claims camp as a queer survival choice of identification, rather than a conscious or critical aesthetic choice, while the collection overall carries a stated mission to recover Warhol’s work from a “didactic moralism” and embrace a deeper sense of his queer poetics. Warhol’s photography provides viewers with a better sense of his everyday life. Using his photography as an entry point, the everyday or mundane space of Warhol and other queer creatives is where Muñoz would later argue in “Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity” provides us with the affective potentials of queer liberation, insisting that our world is still not-yet-queer. From “Pop Out”, however, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s essay provides a specific relation to Warhol’s queerness and whiteness through his contradictory spaces of celebrity, shyness, and shame. Kosofsky Sedgiwck explores “What it may mean to be a (white) queer in a queer-hating world, what it may mean to be a white (queer) in a white-supremacist one, are two explorations that, for Warhol, this shyness embodied.” 

While I am perhaps more in the Brené Brown camp when approaching shame, Kosofsky Sedgwick importantly concludes that it requires a holistic approach as it is entangled with all parts of a self, despite political or therapeutic attempts to redress or undo it on the basis of group oppression, privilege, ambivalence, or other forms of embodied knowledge and experience:

“The forms taken by shame are not distinct ‘toxic’ parts of an identity that can be excised; they are instead integral to and residual in the processes by which identity itself is formed. They are available for the work of metamorphosis, reframing, refiguration, transfiguration, affective and symbolic loading, and deformation; but are unavailable for effecting the work of purgation and deontological closure.” 

As was made clear from psychoanalysis, the process of identification always exceeds categories of identity. The conundrums of this “identification vs. identity” process became part of Muñoz’s later formulations in queer of color theory through “disidentification.”  In seeing parts of Warhol’s everyday “gaze” made available through the Turchin, I question what parts of this shyness and shame may also create sites for “…metamorphosis, reframing, refiguration, transfiguration, affective and symbolic, and deformation…” In particular, how are the lies of whiteness deformed, destroyed, or at least “made strange” in the process of seeking queer liberation? I must admit that my approach to these images is so far geared toward an “additive” and decorative approach – grumpy critics of radical thought may demand more be “undone” to the original photograph, or question what exactly “simply adding” does in achieving my stated aims. I respond with the fact that rupture and continuity are two sides of the same coin. Actively bringing forward an image – now permanently altered through decorative intervention – provides the queer timewarp energy Muñoz asks us to consider, not solve. In these Fire Island images, in particular, the figuration has been layered into a larger abstracted energy that is not contained to its original (“I’m bringing it forward, but I’m bringing it forward in this way”). What is significant for me in this process as well is the added question of place, and what these images [of Fire Island (a “problematic” place) and otherwise] “do” in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and to specify, reactivate, or at least gesture towards Muñoz’s “not-yet-queer” liberatory potentials to Southern Appalachia through Warhol’s photographs (however imperfect a vehicle they may be). Whether consequential in this reading or not, Warhol himself is technically from so-called Appalachia by way of Pittsburgh, PA. 

In addition to now being the subject of multiple books, Warhol’s photography was also featured in a recent exhibition at Jack Shainman in early 2020 called “Andy Warhol Photography: 1967-1987.” Many of the contact sheets to which the Turchin Center’s Warhol prints correspond can be found in online digital archives of Stanford University.

Kinstitutional Critique – Part 3

I continue to re-trace steps from my graduate thesis exhibition and accompanying paper. This post was going to focus on the rhetorical arguments which conjoin legacies of “critiquable” art institutions (which gave rise to institutional critique as a practice) and the family-as-institution from an Enlightenment genealogy. Maybe it’s more important that you know it exists rather than having me re-explain it to you. If you’re interested in reading the original argument, please feel free to email me about it. However, it’s also important to note that these genealogies are understood within their colonial dimensions while wrestling with the Enlightenment as a “botched” project. (Main sources: Miwon Kwon; Andrea Fraser; Michael G. Peletz; Elizabeth Freeman; Lisa Lowe; Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson; Leela Gandhi and Brighubati Sigh). I had a really good studio visit with Piper Marshall about these ideas in March, which was encouraging.

While working back to the artwork featured in my first blog post, a key work in the past was a video I made called “Sleep of Desire Produces Mascots,” which premiered in January 2020 at ​Over Yonder​ curated by Luca Molnar at Hand Art Center in DeLand, FL. ​Sleep of Desire ​is a video elaborated from an interview with my father about his relationship to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where he transferred in the 1970s following an unreciprocated confession of love from his gay male friend at University of Richmond. While my father generously and vulnerably reflects on his college experiences — an evangelical Christian studying music and composition with oblique and distanced relation to a newly semi-conspicious gay culture in the South — my own questioning and presence as visibly queer offspring produce an intergenerational and ideological tension (wearing my father’s vintage rainbow “Duke” polo shirt for our interview adds to this). The work’s title references Goya’s famed “Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters,” but invoked throughout is Duke University’s mascot – the Blue Devil – as institutional drag and ambiguous site for projection and embodiment of desire: repressed, monstrous, campy, or something else entirely. The video also incorporates photos and video footage of Duke’s campus to further haunt an interfamilial history of Southern space-time. A possible post-graduation sequel may be in the works, which would result from contacting the person who confessed his love to my father in the 1970s.

I became interested in the 1970s as a moment in American culture where postmodernism and poststructuralism allegedly became key features – rather, key frameworks or explanations – of contemporary intellectual, political, and social movements. Prominent re-retellings of the postmodern narrative indicate that, despite previous attempts, a consolidated-yet-fractured move to displace or interrupt the falsehood of Enlightenment continuity came to pass. bell hooks’ critique of postmodernism was that it was the state apparatus itself doing the “postmodern-ing” as the consolidating force of “difference” – hooks’ argument rooted in Blackness – not the aims of those who sought rupture, power, and liberation from new visibilities and movements built from different and overlapping positions of “Otherness.” While hooks refers to Civil Rights and Black Power of the 1960s and 70s, these are the bedrock of other interrelated social and political movements in the U.S. like the Women’s Movement and Gay Liberation. When Pandora’s Box opened, “postmodern” tried to stuff everything back inside.

While Sleep of Desire certainly looks to family as an institution, particularly the traumas which inform a white middle class Christian heteropatriarchal order, it also sought to fold in the institution of Duke University and University of Richmond as real and imaginary sites of critique. The university becomes implicated in its role of consolidating social and political order. This implication folds into the level of family intimacy as one of its kinstitutional effects.

Title still “Sleep of Desire Produces Mascots,” digital video, 12:41, 2020
(Left) Still from “Sleep of Desire Produces Mascots,” digital video, 12:41, 2020. (Right) Francisco Goya, “Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters,” 1799, from which the title was also inspired.
Still from “Sleep of Desire Produces Mascots,” digital video, 12:41, 2020

Kinstitutional Critique – Part 2

To follow up on the last post, I think it’s worth noting what this idea of kinstitutional critique looks like in my own practice. Before adding kinship into the equation, my history certainly has petty attempts at institutional critique. One that has stuck around with me is titled “White Cube Roller Rink: A Leisurely Act of Free Labor.” Working as an unpaid intern for an art gallery, I used the space as a roller rink by rollerblading through it while my boss was gone. I believe this impulse carries through in the architectures of the scale “institutional” models I have built in my thesis installation (see first post), longing for their purpose to serve the freedoms and abstracted democratic promises of leisure or fun. These abstracted promises necessarily exceed the institutions of democracy.

Topher Lineberry, White Cube Roller Rink/A Leisurely Act of Free Labor, video stills from performance documentation, length variable, 2011

An early work of kintitutional critique can be found in ​Me n’ Skip​ (2016). It is an altered family photograph taken at my cousin’s 2012 wedding in Kentucky at a boozeless reception on a former plantation. The family photo is digitally blocked out with white translucency with two circles cut out around different faces in the group. I (right circle) can be seen in this family portrait with a distant relative and North Carolina supervillain, Skip Stam (left circle), who was a Member of the ​N.C. House of Representatives​, 1989-90 and 2003-2016,

Republican Leader of the House 2007–2012, and Speaker Pro Tempore 2013-2016. Stam was one of the authors of North Carolina Amendment 1, which was an amendment to the state constitution that effectively banned same-sex marriage, despite already being illegal at the time. The amendment also took away protections for unmarried men and women in domestic arrangements. This wedding photo was taken right after the amendment passed in the same summer. ​​Amendment 1 remained in effect until 2014’s ​General Synod of the United Church of Christ, et al. v. Drew Reisinger, Register of Deeds of Buncombe County, ​and ultimately nullified on a federal level with the 2015 SCOTUS ruling in ​Obergefell v. Hodges​.​ ​More recently, Skip was a major mouthpiece for 2016’s NC House Bill 2 (HB 2), which used trans bathroom panic to deny basic rights and services to the LGBTQIA+ community, while building in language to prevent raising the minimum wage. HB2 also prevented local and state courts from processing claims made on the basis of discrimination not only on gender identity or sexual orientation, but also based on race, age, and ability. HB2 was partially repealed in 2017. Stam claims part of a long line of evangelical “martyrdom”, taking up the torch of John and Betty Stam, missionaries who were reported to be publicly beheaded by the Chinese government in 1934. Members of the Stam family continue to work as missionaries to the present day. I extend a special thanks to my uncle, Mike Vandiver, for providing the original photograph.

Topher Lineberry, Me n’ Skip, archival inkjet print of digitally altered photograph, 19″ x 13″, 2016 (exhibited at Ohio University Art Gallery in 2017)

As an early work of what I now call “kinstitutional critique,” I tried to reconcile family and kinship as a force that situates one’s sense of belonging while proactively working against its own members i.e. myself as a queer member whose civil rights were threatened by the political career of another. As implied by the literal use of white in the photo, the cumulative lies of whiteness remain part of what binds these harmful relationships together. The very definition of family and kinship, though, remain flexible in queer contexts….