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Acquisition Announcement: Special Acquisition of Work by America’s First Abstract Painter

Release date: October 9, 2017

Acquisition Announcement: Special Acquisition of Work by America’s First Abstract Painter image

The Weatherspoon Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro is delighted to announce its recent acquisition of an early twentieth-century watercolor by America’s first abstract painter, Arthur Dove. Funds for this purchase were provided by Mary Alice Rose Wildman, in honor of her children Mary Czysz and John Wildman. Mrs. Wildman and her family “are delighted to obtain this watercolor by esteemed artist Arthur Dove for the Weatherspoon Art Museum’s collection and hope that others will enjoy it too.”

Well known for his abstract landscapes, Arthur Dove (1880-1946) was part of a circle of early twentieth-century modernists that also included artists John Marin, Marsden Hartley, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Supported both professionally and financially by the gallerist and photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, these forward-thinking individuals looked to the nonrepresentational artforms being explored in Europe at the time as vehicles for expressing their own creative ideas and talents. 

Dove painted Lehigh Water Tower in 1938 while he was living in Geneva, New York. The work depicts an industrial water tower surrounded by telephone lines and deep snow. As an artist Dove believed that all things—both natural and manufactured—possess a spirit or energy that animate them and sought to depict those unseen rhythms and powers in his art. Because he concentrated on conveying the scene’s atmospheric conditions and “essence” over its physical details, the image swells with energy. Its potency comes from Dove’s energetic brushwork and expressive use of line and color. Washes of blue denote the winter sky while broad expanses of brown suggest factories or other urban buildings. At the same time, the artist left much of the paper’s ground bare to indicate snow, light, and icy conditions. 

Lehigh Water Tower was created the year before Dove suffered a heart attack that, complicated by a kidney disorder, left him in poor health until his death in 1946. The actual water tower most likely was situated in a neighborhood at the north end of Geneva, now called Lehigh Gardens. Although Dove’s innovative art style was not commercially embraced by the art establishment until many years after his death, his abstractions are important contributions to the history of modern art. 

Museum patron Mary Alice Rose Wildman has been a loyal supporter of the Weatherspoon Art Museum for fifty years. Originally from Wilmington, North Carolina, Mary Alice earned an associate’s degree at Woman’s College (now UNCG) in the 1940s, a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from UNCG in 1973 and a master’s degree in counseling and development in 1978. She and her late husband Raymond raised their children, Mary Rose Wildman Czysz and John Wildman in Greensboro, where she also taught school for fourteen years. A past president of the Weatherspoon’s Guild and a former member of the museum’s Association Board, Mary Alice is one of the Weatherspoon’s longest-serving docents.

Image: Arthur Dove, Lehigh Water Tower, 1938, watercolor and ink on paper, 7 x 5 in. Museum purchase with funds from the Mary Alice Rose Wildman Art Acquisitions Fund in honor of her children, Mary Rose Wildman Czysz and John Wildman, 2017.

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About the Weatherspoon Art Museum

The Weatherspoon Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro acquires, preserves, exhibits, and interprets modern and contemporary art for the benefit of its multiple audiences, including university, community, regional, and beyond. Through these activities, the museum recognizes its paramount role of public service, and enriches the lives of diverse individuals by fostering an informed appreciation and understanding of the visual arts and their relationship to the world in which we live.

The Weatherspoon Art Museum at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro was founded by Gregory Ivy in 1941 and is the earliest of any art facilities within the UNC system.  The museum was founded as a resource for the campus, community, and region and its early leadership developed an emphasis—maintained to this day—on presenting and acquiring modern and contemporary works of art. A 1950 bequest from the renowned collection of Claribel and Etta Cone, which included prints and bronzes by Henri Matisse and other works on paper by American and European modernists, helped to establish the Weatherspoon’s permanent collection.  Other prescient acquisitions during Ivy’s tenure included a 1951 suspended mobile by Alexander Calder, Woman by Willem de Kooning, a pivotal work in the artist’s career that was purchased in 1954, and the first drawings by Eva Hesse and Robert Smithson to enter a museum collection.
In 1989, the museum moved into its present location in The Anne and Benjamin Cone Building designed by the architectural firm Mitchell/Giurgola. The museum has six galleries and a sculpture courtyard with over 17,000 square feet of exhibition space.  The American Association of Museums accredited the Weatherspoon in 1995 and renewed its accreditation in 2005.

Collections + Exhibitions
The permanent collection of the Weatherspoon Art Museum is considered to be one of the foremost of its kind in the Southeast.  It represents all major art movements from the beginning of the 20th century to the present. Of the nearly 6,000 works in the collection are pieces by such prominent figures as Sol LeWitt, Robert Mangold, Cindy Sherman, Al Held, Alex Katz, Henry Tanner, Louise Nevelson, Mark di Suvero, Deborah Butterfield, and Robert Rauschenberg. The museum regularly lends to major exhibitions nationally and internationally.

The Weatherspoon also is known for its adventurous and innovative exhibition program. Through a dynamic annual calendar of fifteen to eighteen exhibitions and a multi-disciplinary educational program for audiences of all ages, the museum provides an opportunity for audiences to consider artistic, cultural, and social issues of our time and enriches the life of our university, community, and region.

Weatherspoon Art Museum
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Spring Garden and Tate Streets, PO Box 26170
Greensboro, NC 27402-6170, 336.334.5770,

For more information or press images, contact:
Loring Mortensen, 336-256-1451,

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Contact our Public & Community Relations Officer, Loring Mortensen, for press-related requests, images and information.

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