Portrait of Memphis Wood | Artist Mary Ann Bryan | 1977

Mandarin Museum partners with MOCA in celebration of 100 years of contemporary art in Jacksonville

Mandarin Museum’s Spring/Summer 2024 art exhibition titled Memphis Wood Revisited is now on display. Curated by Dr. Elizabeth Heuer, UNF Associate Professor of Art History, and Nofa Dixon, UNF Associate Professor Emerita of Art and Design, the exhibit features pieces from Mandarin Museum’s permanent collection, UNF Special Collections, and select pieces on loan from local collectors of her work, including John Bunker and Vina Schemer.

Memphis Wood Revisited celebrates the significant cultural impact Memphis had on Jacksonville’s art and arts education scenes over the course of six decades. Coming to Jacksonville in 1929 from a small town in North Georgia, she began a 33-year career teaching studio arts at Landon Junior-Senior High School. She taught many aspiring young artists during her tenure, including famed watercolorist Lee Adams. Outside of the classroom, Memphis was a prolific and diverse artist. Perhaps best known for her large-scale abstract fiber art, she began as a painter, and also worked in drawing, sculpting, pottery, ceramics, and jewelry design.

Her passion for creating was matched only by her dedication to enriching Jacksonville’s art community. She was a founding member of the Jacksonville Art Center. Located at 1350 Riverside Ave, the Center was established in 1948 and would later be known as the Jacksonville Art Museum (now MOCA Jacksonville). Alongside fellow artist and dear friend, Charlie Brown, Memphis established the Crown Craftsmen Association to mentor the next generation of crafts-movement artists. She taught full-time at Jacksonville University for five years following retirement from the public school system, held classes at Jacksonville Children’s Museum (now MOSH) and Jacksonville Art Museum, and became one of the latter’s first honorary trustees in 1979. In 1985, the City of Jacksonville aptly recognized Memphis as the “First Lady of Art in Jacksonville.”

Initially settling in a San Marco garage apartment, Memphis built a home on Woodside Lane in Mandarin in the 1950s. Affording her more room to create and store her work, it was there she cultivated a lifelong closeness with her artist soulmate and neighbor, Charlie Brown. They welcomed colleagues, proteges, friends, and neighbors to their little corner of the world, and built a lasting network of creators who were foundational to Jacksonville’s growing and vibrant art scene in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. Memphis lived in that home until just a few years before her death in Atlanta in 1989.

Mandarin Museum is thought to have the largest known institutional Memphis Wood collection, adding more than 40 works through a gift from MOCA Jacksonville in 2022. Many pieces in the exhibition, Memphis Wood Revisited, are on public display for the first time in decades, celebrating her life and legacy during MOCA’s 100-year anniversary. And in a fitting tribute, late artist Mary Ann Bryan’s portrait of her friend and mentor is exhibited as well.

Memphis Wood Revisited will be on display March 29 – September 14, 2024 in the Stowe Gallery at Mandarin Museum, 11964 Mandarin Road. Admission to Mandarin Museum and Memphis Wood Revisited is free.