Melissa B. Tubbs for years has dreamed of an exhibition that showcases Alabama’s architectural history. The pen and ink artist finally got her chance with an exhibition tied to Alabama’s bicentennial that debuted Jan. 5 in Gadsden.
The exhibition, “Celebration & Preservation: Drawing Alabama’s Architectural History,” features 25 detailed pen and ink drawings of architecture from throughout the state, beginning with the 1820 Ivy Green House – the home of Helen Keller, and ending in 1997, with the Goat House — an Auburn Rural Studio Project. The exhibition will travel throughout the state from January 2018 through June 2019.
Tubbs began laying the groundwork for the exhibition in 2008. “I wanted to show the variety of architecture that has been built in and around the state,” Tubbs said. “We have almost every architectural style you can think of … from Victorian and Mid-Century Modern, to Art Modern and Art Deco.”
With the support of the Alabama Bicentennial Commission and the endorsement of the Alabama Architectural Foundation, Tubbs reached out to the public on social media to solicit ideas for the buildings she would include in the show. While Tubbs is a long-time Montgomery resident, her query garnered suggestions for buildings and places she would have otherwise not known about.
To help organize the selection process, Tubbs divided the state into five areas and chose five buildings in each of those areas to feature in the exhibition. “I did not necessarily want to choose buildings that were well-known and on the National Register of Historic Places,” said Tubbs. “However, it turns out that a good many of them are, which was a good way to find out information.” Tubbs chose a variety of buildings, including homes, churches, courthouses, businesses and even a jail. Each city hosting the exhibition has a building featured in the show.
Tubbs’s pen and ink career began about 20 years ago, when her sister asked her to complete her first official pen and ink drawing of her father-in-law’s home.
“I never knew how much I loved architecture until I drew it,” Tubbs said. “I really like working in black and white. I like seeing the values. … It doesn’t matter what color anything you see is, it’s the values – the shadows behind something or cast by the sunlight on a building that gives depth to everything and volume.”
A lifelong artist, Tubbs graduated from Auburn with a degree in visual design, and worked in magazine production for nearly 25 years. However, about six years after the house drawing for her sister, the number of commissioned works Tubbs received equaled that of a full-time job, so she chose to leave magazine production to pursue her own art career full-time.
“I never regretted it,” Tubbs said. “It is not always easy … but I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of different things.” Tubbs’s work includes designing the Montgomery Area Business Committee for the Fine Arts awards, the 2011 White House Christmas ornament, as well as two different drawing pad covers for Strathmore artist papers in 2011-2012.
While the pen and ink medium has been around for hundreds of years, it is not a common art medium. “It’s a hard medium to use, because you can’t erase,” Tubbs said. “You either start over or find a way to incorporate it into you drawing. Tubbs likes the challenge since she can’t make it easy on herself. “Pen and ink is a case of practice makes perfect,” Tubbs said. “I’ve gotten better with more that I’ve done. It is a medium that I think requires that … you get to a higher level at using the medium.”
Her attention to detail, showcased through layers of delicate lines, captures every aspect of architecture that makes each of the buildings in the exhibition unique. Regarding her drawings, Tubbs has had people tell her that “each time they go back and look at the drawings, they see something they didn’t see before,” something that she hopes visitors to the exhibition will also experience.
For Tubbs, preparing this exhibition was a labor of love, as she merged her love of art with her appreciation of history. “You can’t look at one without the other – art, architecture and history. … I love finding out about buildings – who built them, when, why they were built, and what materials were used,” Tubbs said. She incorporated her research into the exhibition catalog by recording the technical information about the building, as well as historical information and family history.
For example, Tubbs discovered that the Holman House in Ozark was built by Jessee DeCosta Holman, a prominent businessman who sold horses and mules in the early 20th century. “When he built the house in 1912-1913,” Tubbs said, “he had a horse carved on one side of the living room mantle, and a mule carved on the other side, representing what he did to make the money to be able to build the house.”
Another interesting story she uncovered after the exhibition catalog had been printed involved the Bashinsky Home in Troy. Tubbs spoke with the granddaughter of L.M. Bashinsky, who had been the cashier of the Farmers and Merchants National Bank of Troy in 1902-1903, and learned that members of the Bashinsky family used the Troy home as a refuge from “the polio season” during the summers in Montgomery.
“Architecture is always influenced by what’s going on in the rest of the country, and world, at times,” Tubbs said. “It ties together all kinds of history and makes a community.”
“Drawing these buildings and celebrating 200 years of different architecture in the state is a way of drawing people’s attention to these buildings that are worth saving,” said Tubbs. “We need to remember history … whether it’s architecture or anything else… For people to know and realize how important it is to appreciate the people who came before us… It’s made us who we are and makes Alabama what Alabama is.”
To learn more about Tubbs, this exhibition, or how to commission artwork, visit Pen & Ink Works.
“Celebration & Preservation: Drawing Alabama’s Architectural History” will be on display at the Gadsden Museum of Art from Jan. 5 to Feb. 23. The opening reception will be Saturday, Jan. 13 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Exhibition catalogs will be available for sale in the museum gift shop.
The Gadsden Museum of Art is at 515 Broad Street. Call the museum office at 256-546-7365 for additional information.
- Jan. 12 – Feb. 23, 2018: Gadsden Museum of Art, Gadsden
- May 4 – May 25, 2018: Cultural Arts Center, Arts and Humanities Council of Tuscaloosa County, Tuscaloosa
- June 4 – June 29, 2018: Danielle Juzan Gallery, Mobile Arts Council, Mobile
- October – November 2018: Johnson Center for the Arts, Troy
- January – March 2019: The Georgine Clarke Alabama Artists Gallery, Alabama State Council on the Arts, Montgomery
- June 2019: Tennessee Valley Museum of Art, Tennessee Valley Art Association, Tuscumbia