One of the best summer seasons in several years opens this week, offering fans of the visual arts plenty of good things to look at all the way through September. Here are my top five pix from what is shaping up to be an unusually interesting and active schedule of exhibits.
Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art. Wednesday-Sept. 30. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.
If you like the impressive trio of modern and contemporary watercolor shows now on view at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center, you can't miss this sensational traveling exhibit and its lavish exploration of the medium's previous history. Drawn from the largest collection of English drawings and watercolors in America, the selection of nearly 90 works traces that story from the medium's emergence in the mid-1700s to its high point in the late 19th century, including masterpieces by such pioneering figures as William Blake and J.M.W. Turner.
WWilliam Christenberry, photographs. July 15-Sept. 30. Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk.
Few photographers have taken so many archetypal landscape views of the South as this one-time sculptor and painter from Tuscaloosa, Ala. Originally inspired by the famed Walker Evans images in a 1959 book - "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" - Christenberry has since become a major influence in his own right, chronicling the effects of time, nature and humankind through his studies of the South's distinctive rural and small-town architecture.
Envision: The New American Folk Art. July 21-Aug. 18. Nancy Thomas Gallery, Yorktown.
One of the region's most accomplished self-taught artists is showing some talent as a curator and collector in addition to her well-known gifts as a businesswoman, sculptor and painter. Organized with help from art director Chris Ambrosino, Thomas's new exhibit includes recently discovered artists from Oregon to Mississippi, with all of them creating images so far outside the realm of mainstream contemporary art that - for some - the much-abused description of "visionary" may be right on the mark.
A Selection from the Baron and Ellin Gordon Collection, folk art. Sept. 8-Oct. 21. Old Dominion University Gallery, Norfolk.
Williamsburg collectors Baron and Ellin Gordon have become nationally famous for the daring taste with which they assembled one of the country's most admired contemporary folk art collections over the past 25 years. Now their recent gift of hundreds of pieces to Old Dominion University will be the star of a new permanent gallery there - and the source of who knows how many shows in the coming years.
Clyde Butcher: America the Beautiful, photographs. Sept. 8-Nov. 4. Muscarelle Museum of Art, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg.
You haven't really seen a big, beautiful, black-and-white landscape photograph until you've experienced the genuinely giant images produced for this staggering show. Created by renowned Florida photographer Clyde Butcher, some of the pictures measure as much as 5 feet by 9 feet. Yet, because they were shot with a 12-inch-by-20-inch view camera, then enlarged with an even larger vintage copy camera, they still boast truly eye-grabbing detail. Best known for his views of the Everglades, Butcher made a special tour of the country for this show. He shot more than 1,500 negatives, then chose the best to help celebrate America's 400th year.