The Tennessee State Museum presents the Fine Art Photography of Benjamin Walls


An exhibition of fine art nature photography by Tennessee native Benjamin Walls opened at the Tennessee State Museum on July 1. Entitled Through Appalachian Eyes: The Fine Art Photography of Benjamin Walls, the exhibit will feature more than 50 nature images taken by Walls from Appalachia to Africa.

Walls is a self-taught fine art photographer who has been winning awards for his work since early in his career. Now 36 years old, Walls has shown his work at some of the world’s most distinguished institutions, including the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and London’s Natural History Museum. Building upon his critical acclaim, he opened his signature gallery in his hometown of Bristol six years ago. There is no admission charge to the exhibit which will be on view in the museum’s Changing Galleries.

At the age of 17, Walls took an 11-day-hike through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that changed his life. His father dropped him off at the trailhead and Walls trekked through some of the wildest and most beautiful sections of the Southern Appalachians. As he hiked, Walls took numerous photographs of the grand vistas that inspired him. He was fascinated by the diversity and beauty of life in the forests but when he returned home and developed his film, he was dissatisfied. Though his first efforts were disappointing, he pressed on. He returned to the wilderness again and again to practice, experiment, and hone his skills. Using his native Appalachian environment, he began to refine his process until he produced images that translated his own experiences accurately for others.

What he accomplished in Appalachia inspired Walls to push both geographic and artistic boundaries. His passion for preserving wildness required that he have frequent access to it. So he became a voracious traveler. His first international trip was a study-abroad experience in Australia which gave him new ground to cover, both literally and artistically. During his semester at the University of the Southern Cross, Walls took every possible opportunity to hike and camp, capturing images that reflected his new passion for wilderness. He returned home with a drive to travel across the United States and the world, experiencing new environments and creating art that reflected his expanding creative abilities.

Walls’ art has a rare depth and breadth, according to Museum Director Lois Riggins-Ezzell. Some of his images focus on the smallest details: like shimmering ripples on the surface of a Western river, or a stunning mosaic of autumn leaves from the Appalachian forest. Others show the grandeur of nature on a large scale: waves crashing against huge cliffs on the Australian coastline, or the vast beauty and open horizon of the African Serengeti.

The textures and colors that appear in Benjamin’s work are the very ones that he has seen as the shutter clicked. He works mostly with medium and large format film, but even with his digital exposures, Walls presents each piece the way that it would have appeared as a film exposure – free from combined imagery, digital insertions, or other manipulations. He says that each piece is the product of extensive preliminary research, technical prowess, and artistic vision. Every stroke of “luck” in an image is evidence of his willingness to endure discomfort, and sometimes even danger, in order to visit the wildest locations he can find. He says his pictures also reflect the infinite patience required to sit and wait until weather and light are in perfect combination. Whether his subject is wildlife or landscape or abstraction, Walls’ says his art is a call not only to admire, but to act. His creative mission is meant to energize and inspire others by reconnecting them with nature and spurring them to take action in preserving and protecting the world’s natural heritage.

Through Appalachian Eyes: The Fine Art Photography of Benjamin Walls will be on view through October 2, 2016. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. It is closed on Mondays. Parking is available is paid lots, and free in state lots on weekends only.


New Retrospective Exhibition on Tennessee Artist Lloyd Branson Opens at the State Museum
The first major retrospective of Tennessee artist Lloyd Branson’s life, works of art, and legacy opened at the State Museum on July 1.


The exhibition entitled, Celebrating a Life in Tennessee Art: Lloyd Branson, 1853 – 1925, was organized by the East Tennessee Historical Society and features more than 60 of Branson’s paintings which tell the remarkable story of the ambitions and achievements of the artist and his region. There is no admission charge to the exhibit which will be on view in the museum’s Changing Galleries.

Born in what is now Union County in East Tennessee, Branson came of age in a community experiencing the wrenching transformation caused by the Civil War and the extraordinary growth that followed. The young artist’s unmistakable talent created the opportunity for him to move to Manhattan to study at the National Academy of Design, where he honed his skills and won acclaim. Branson later returned to a bustling Knoxville where he established a downtown art emporium with photographer Franklin B. McCrary, which provided him with a unique vantage point for both documenting and participating in the city’s growth.

Two of the Branson’s most famous paintings from the State Museum collection are included in the exhibit. The Gathering of the Overmountain Men at Sycamore Shoals vividly captures the excitement of Tennessee’s Revolutionary past at the Battle of King’s Mountain. The last work of Branson’s distinguished career was a portrait of World War I hero Alvin York, which Branson regarded as one of his finest accomplishments and is normally on view at Military Branch of the Tennessee State Museum.

Branson painted numerous prominent figures in politics, business, and education, but some of his most heralded work portrayed “work” itself. His Hauling of Marble, one of several depictions of the local quarry industry, won a gold medal at Knoxville’s 1910 Appalachian Exposition. Paintings of local agriculture such as Women at Work led The New York Times to declare approvingly, “Mr. Lloyd Branson takes hold of everyday life with courage.”

Museum visitors also will view several of Branson’s striking portraits including that of Civil War hero Admiral David Farragut. Also included in the exhibit is the artist’s design for Knoxville’s flag, adopted by the chamber of commerce in 1896, which evokes the pride and optimism of the rising city.

The exhibition features rare still-life and landscapes that highlight Branson’s skill as well as his love for his home state’s natural beauty. The retrospective also explores Branson’s role as a mentor and teacher to fellow artists, including Catherine Wiley and Beauford Delaney.

The exhibition is made possible through cooperation with the Branson Art Organization (bransonart.org) and is sponsored by John Z. C. Thomas and an anonymous donor. Celebrating a Life in Tennessee Art: Lloyd Branson, 1853 – 1925 will be on view through January 8, 2017. For more information on the museum’s location, hours and parking, visit www.tnmuseum.org.
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