A Four-year Mystery Recently Solved

Mildred Nungester (American, 1912–2009), Weighing Cotton, 1944, oil on canvas, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama, Association Purchase, 1944.7, 48" x 168" 

Above are a few photographs from our January 2018, Lunch & Learn program at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.

In the first slide, artist Elizabeth "Bebe" Wolfe the daughter of Dixie Art Colony artists Mildred Nungester (Wolfe) and Karl Wolfe is shown with Mildred's massive 4 foot x 14 foot painting titled "Weighing Cotton." 

Roughly four years ago, a vintage photograph of this mural-sized painting was found in the Dixie Art Colony scrapbooks. The note attached to the photograph credited the painting to Mildred Nungester (Wolfe). Given the nature of the oversized painting, we assumed it must have been painted as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal” Federal Art Projects. Based on that assumption, we did extensive research to see if we could connect the image to one of the New Deal programs. The only clue, other than the name of the artist was a notation about Colorado Springs and the year 1944.

It was not until our January, 2018 Lunch & Learn program that we discovered that the painting was in storage at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. MMFA registrar Pam Bransford mentioned that in addition to the artwork by Mildred Nungester (Wolfe) that was included in the presentation, MMFA also had a mural-sized painting by Mildred that was in storage. Mildred’s daughter Bebe and granddaughter Sarah were in attendance and inquired about the possibility of seeing the painting. After our lunch, Pam Bransford gracefully treated a few of us to a private showing of the painting.

We were also very pleased to have the opportunity to view some of the documentation that MMFA has on file about the painting. The information documented the painting as a thesis project completed by Mildred in 1944 for the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. Mildred received her Masters Degree at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center while Karl Wolfe was serving in the military in Colorado Springs.

A newspaper article appearing in the Sunday, March 12, 1944 issue of the Montgomery Advertiser stated the following: “The most recent addition to the art collection at the Museum is a beautiful Mural in oil by Mildred Nungester, now doing art work in Colorado Springs, Colo. This mural, four by fourteen feet, is the work of Miss Nungester and depicts the end of the day in cotton-picking time, with the wagons loaded with the day’s pickings, and a cotton field as the background. The Mural will be ready for display Sunday afternoon from 2:30 to 5:30 and should prove quite a drawing card, as the work of Miss Nungester is well known and greatly admired in Montgomery.”

Thank you to the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and Pam Bransford for providing us with this unique opportunity to view works by some of the Dixie Art Colony artists that are now normally on display. Works by Kelly Fitzpatrick, Louise Smith Everton, Mildred Nungester Wolfe, Karl Wolfe, Frank Applebee, Dawn Kennedy, Eloise Hawkins, Louise Horworth, Warree Carmichael LeBron, Lamar Dodd, Martha Beggs Elliott, Anne Goldthwaite, and Richard Coe were included in the program.

January 24, 2018, Lunch & Learn

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