Oil painting "Island Columns" by Alice Dalton Brown
Alice Dalton Brown's oil painting "Island Columns" is included in the special exhibition "Breath, Light and Distance" at the Springfield Art Museum. (Photo by Jeff Kessinger)

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The show guest curator Joshua Best ended up putting together for the Springfield Art Museum isn’t the show he originally proposed. It kind of had to be that way.

Back in pre-COVID-19 pandemic times, the museum’s officer for audience development was thinking about the prevalence of doom and gloom in popular culture. He approached museum curator of art Sarah Buhr with the idea of putting together an exhibition based on that theme and got to work.

“And in the interim, we had the global pandemic, we had all kinds of social justice upheaval, an attempted political coup, all of these terrible things and I just had this sense of, ‘I don’t want to look at this anymore,’” Best said April 18. “I sat down with Sarah and said, ‘I can’t look at this stuff anymore. I have to figure out something different.'”

That something different is “Breath, Light and Distance.” It opens April 20 in the Eldredge Gallery. The special exhibition features 18 cloudscapes from the museum’s permanent collection and uses the science and psychology of viewing art and cloud watching.

‘Live in the light and live in the moment'

The oil painting "Sky City and Skyscape" by Eric Sloane
Eric Sloane's oil painting “Sky City and Skyscape” helped inspire Springfield Art Museum officer for audience development Joshua Best to move from “doom and gloom” to hope while guest curating an exhibition. The result is “Breath, Light and Distance,” which opens April 20. (Photo by Jeff Kessinger)

There is one piece of art in particular that caught Best’s attention during his doom-and-gloom research. It’s Eric Sloane’s 1983 oil painting “Sky City and Skyscape.” It depicts a city on a plateau, the sky dominated by dark clouds with rays of sunlight shining through.

“I was looking at it with the idea of the ruins of this town, but something else was drawing me in and making me return to it,” Best said. “It was this idea of the light coming through the clouds, this idea of hope. And Sarah said, ‘Well have you ever thought that’s the thing to be looking at instead?’ And once that happened, everything kind of fell into place. I started looking at the types of work that give you room to slow down, to stop, to breathe and to live in the light and live in the moment. That’s really how it happened.”

Want to go?

What: Springfield Art Museum

Where: 1111 E. Brookside Dr.

Hours: Wednesday-Friday, noon-8 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 1-5 p.m.; Closed Monday and Tuesday

Admission: Free; donations accepted

For more information: Visit the Springfield Art Museum website or call (417) 837-5700

“Breath, Light, and Distance” features a range of media, including oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings, prints and photography. The cloudscapes were selected for their depictions of rolling clouds, wide expanses of bright light and room to breathe. Featured artists include Alice Dalton Brown, Yvonne Jacquette, Robert Kipniss, Patrick Procktor, Dag Hol, Kenneth V. White and work attributed to George Inness, among others.

“A lot of these works have not been on view,” Buhr said. “That’s something that has been a mission for me in every show, pulling out pieces that most people haven’t seen in a long time. I think there’s only a couple that have been on view in the last 10 years. Most of them have not, so that is fantastic. These are pieces that people haven’t seen in a long time. It’s been fun to see.”

Check-in with your heart rate, breathing and mindfulness at ‘Pulse Points'

Here’s where the science and psychology come in. Best said evidence shows that looking at art changes your mental and physical health.

“It reduces cortisol, which is the stress hormone, so it can bring down stress and anxiety levels,” he said. “And looking at things you like or that you deem to be beautiful releases dopamine in your brain, so we’ve drawn that out into different points in the exhibit.”

They’re called “Pulse Points” and they give the public the chance to check in with their heart rate, their respiratory rate and their mindfulness levels.

A "Pulse Point" sign hangs on a white wall inside the Springfield Art Museum
“Pulse Points” give visitors to the Springfield Art Museum opportunities to check in with their heartrate, breathing rate and mindfulness levels during “Breath, Light and Distance.” (Photo by Jeff Kessinger)

“There are instructions on how to do that and to gauge it,” Best said. “Then there’s a place at the end to reassess after you’ve moved through the exhibit. Have you noticed any change in how your breathing? Have you noticed any change in your heart rate? Has it gone down? Has it gone up? Are you able to filter out some of those intruding thoughts and are you more present? All of those things combined are helpful for your mental and physical health.”

There will be “Pulse Points” in other exhibits at the Springfield Art Museum as well, giving guests multiple chances to stop and reflect.

Free programs offer chances to learn more

"Untitled Kakejiku" by an anonymous Japanese artist.
“Untitled Kakejiku” by an anonymous Japanese artist, dates back to the 1940s. The watercolor on silk is included in the special exhibition “Breath, Light and Distance” at the Springfield Art Museum.

The Springfield Art Museum offers several free programs in conjunction with “Breath, Light and Distance,” including a free take-home project bag called “Mindful Making, Clouds & Zentangles.” The cloud-making and Zentangle activities are designed to help users practice mindful art-making, examine their emotions and experience stillness and purposeful contemplation. Registration opens May 17.

Best hosts a Curator Talk and Tour at 6 p.m. May 24. It’s free and open to the public. Best will discuss the impetus for this special exhibition, the process of working with the museum’s permanent collection and conduct a tour of the exhibition.

Artist Shauna LeAnn Smith hosts a slow viewing of “Untitled Kakejiku” at 6 p.m. July 25. Guests will spend an hour carefully observing and speaking about the works on view. It is also free, but in-gallery space is limited, so registration is required.

Art, flowers and fashion combine at Art In Bloom

People look at art inside the Springfield Art Museum
Guests to Art In Bloom look at a garment inspired by the adjacent painting. The 2024 edition of Art In Bloom is April 24-28 at the Springfield Art Museum. (Photo by Andie Bottrell, Designing Indie courtesy of the Springfield Art Museum)

The Springfield Art Museum’s signature event celebrating fine art, flowers and fashion is back for its fifth year. Art In Bloom is scheduled for April 24-28.

The festival invites floral and fashion designers to imaginatively interpret works of art on view in the museum’s galleries and presents their creations alongside those works. This year’s event features 25 Springfield-area fashion and floral designers. Art In Bloom offers juried prize categories for featured designers as well as People’s Choice Awards.

Admission to both the museum and Art In Bloom is free. Guests can see the fashion designs during regular museum hours April 24-28. The floral designs will only be on display Friday and Saturday, April 26-27. People’s Choice Award ballots are available in the museum’s lobby for $2 per vote. Winners in each category receive a $500 cash prize.

Ample opportunities to create, learn and shop

People shop flowers set up in a white tent
There are ample shopping opportunities during Art In Bloom at the Springfield Art Museum, with local pop-up vendors scheduled April 24-28. (Photo by Andie Bottrell, Designing Indie courtesy of the Springfield Art Museum)

There are ample opportunities to create, learn and shop during Art In Bloom. Free family art-making activities will be set up in the Weisel Gallery, while the James River Basin Partnership hosts free family nature-making fun from 4-6 p.m. Wednesday, April 24 (weather permitting).

A full slate of paid workshops is also available, covering everything from watercolor to embroidery and flower pounding to basket weaving. Workshops are:

  • Paint by Ink Watercolor — 5-7 p.m. April 24, led by Kim Hardin, Paint by Ink
  • Botanical Print & Flower Pounding — 5-7 p.m. April 25, led by Cina Canada, Wild Arts Learning
  • Embroidery Pin/Brooch — 4-7 p.m. April 26, led by fiber artist Katherine Botts Whitaker
  • Basket Weaving — 1-4 p.m. April 27, led by Barbara Vicente, Missouri Basket Weavers Guild and Ozark Mountain Basket Weavers
  • Floral Design — 2-4 p.m. April 28, led by Art in Bloom 2022 Best in Show award winner Raleigh Jones, Wickman’s Garden Village

The Basket Weaving workshop has already sold out and the Springfield Art Museum expects the others will also sell out. The workshop fee is $50 and tickets are available on the Springfield Art Museum’s website or by calling (417) 837-5700.

Vendors at this year’s Art In Bloom are the Fiddly Fig, the Flower Company, Grow for Good 417 and the Springfield-Greene County Library District’s Heirloom Seed Library. Flowers in water and potted plants are not permitted in the museum, so guests are asked to shop on their way out or plan to store their purchases in their vehicles before entering Art in Bloom.

Proceeds boost museum's art acquisition and exhibition efforts

Proceeds from Art In Bloom sponsorships, paid events, pop-up retail merchandise and People’s Choice Award vote sales benefit the Springfield Art Museum’s art acquisition and exhibition efforts. The museum has purchased work by 19 artists, 16 of whom were not previously represented in the permanent collection, with funds raised through Art In Bloom.

In its first four years, the festival has attracted more than 7,000 patrons, raised more than $88,000 for art acquisitions and awarded $11,500 in prize money.

A brightly colored dress is displayed next to the painting that inspired it at the Springfield Art Museum's Art In Bloom
The 2024 Art In Bloom features the work of 25 Springfield-area fashion and floral designers. (Photo by Andie Bottrell, Designing Indie courtesy of the Springfield Art Museum)

Jeff Kessinger

Jeff Kessinger is the Reader Engagement Editor for the Hauxeda, and the voice of its daily newsletter SGF A.M. He covered sports in southwest Missouri for the better part of 20 years, from young athletes to the pros. The Springfield native and Missouri State University alumnus is thrilled to be doing journalism in the Queen City, helping connect the community with important information. He and wife Jamie daily try to keep a tent on the circus that is a blended family of five kids and three cats. More by Jeff Kessinger