During a visit to Bates College, students from the Tripp Middle School in Turner take in “Miracles and Glory Abound” by Vanessa German.

Artist Vanessa German does not view her work as telling a new narrative. Her work, she said, involves raising a submerged narrative.

“We have to look at who is telling the story and then find what is missing and tell that story,” said German, an African-American artist from Pittsburgh, who is showing art at Bates College Museum of Art this fall and winter that reconsiders the crossing of the Delaware River by George Washington. “The way we craft mainstream history in this country is dominated by very few voices. … I am adding my voice to the story, adding to a collection of stories. There is some newness to that, some spreading of new voices, adding a new song.”

German, 43, is a poet, performer and sculptor who broadly explores transformation and healing in her art. At Bates, her installation “Miracles and Glory Abound” addresses racism, nationalism and the mythology of American history. She reimagines Emanuel Leutze’s painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” from 1851. It hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and is widely known for its depiction of the dangerous and strategically vital river crossing during the Revolutionary War.

It’s considered a great history painting and often is used to introduce the topic of Washington and the Revolutionary War to students. It’s also inaccurate and includes what German calls “mythologizing.” The flag is wrong, and Washington probably wasn’t standing in the heroic manner Leutze’s depicts because he was crossing in a storm and the boat would have been unstable. The painting perpetuates a myth, elevating some figures at the expense of others, she said. History is full of other examples, and German aims to add depth to those stories by fleshing them out and starting a conversation about public memory.

German’s multimedia installation includes colorful fabric and figures of African-American women, whom she adorns with quilted fabric and objects that she collects in her neighborhood. Bates is the third museum to host the site-specific installation. It’s a collaboration among Bates, the Flint Institute of Arts in Michigan and the Figge Art Museum in Iowa. After Bates, it heads to the David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland. German added trees and waterfalls to the piece in Maine.

German was born in the midwest and grew up in Los Angeles. Her mother was a quilter and fiber artist. She credits her mother for the direction she’s taken in life. She’s always been active in neighborhoods, wherever she has lived, and treats her work as an artist as part of her commitment to community activism. “My mother made us whole human beings as young people by making us really consider ideas of consumption and ideas of value by giving us the tools and empowering us to make things ourselves,” she said.


Vanessa German’s “Miracles and Glory Abound” at Bates College Museum of Art. Photo by Phyllis Graber Jensen, courtesy of Bates College

German has won several awards, including the Jacob Lawrence Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letter and the Don Tyson Prize from the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. She shows her art across the country. A current installation of hers in Omaha, Nebraska, is drawing attention for its inclusion of a racially insensitive word. Her exhibition “Sometimes. We. Cannot. Be. With. Our. Bodies.” has been at the Union for Contemporary Art in North Omaha the gallery since September and has been subject to recent projects because of her use of the word.

“Vanessa German: Miracles and Glory Abound,” through March 28, Bates College Museum of Art, 75 Russell St., Lewiston. Regular hours are 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For more information, go to bates.edu/museum.


University of Southern Maine Art Gallery, 5 University Way, Gorham: “Contemporary Responses to Modernism: A New England Perspective,” through Sunday. Artists in this exhibition engage with the past with contemporary language, embracing cubism, expressionism and other modern movements. Several artists have ties to Maine, including Jon Imber, Sascha Braunig and Gideon Bok.

Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art, 522 Congress St., Portland: “Designinquiry: Futurespective,” through Dec. 14. This exhibition examines processes of design with multimedia installations of objects and projects. It’s presented by DesignInquiry, a nonprofit collective that promotes team-based gatherings to explore and expand the world of design.

Colby College Museum of Art, 5600 Mayflower Hill, Waterville: “I Am Not a Stranger: Sean Alonzo Harris,” through Dec. 15. The Maine photographer, who recently moved to Waterville from Portland, is showing about 50 new portraits at Common Street Arts, the Colby museum, Waterville Public Library, Railroad Square Cinema and the Waterville Opera House.

University of Maine Museum of Art, 40 Harlow St., Bangor: Nina Jerome “Entangled,” through Dec. 21. Maine painter Nina Jerome shows new paintings and drawings inspired by invasive wild grape vines that Jerome came across on an artist residency. She is also showing at Elizabeth Moss Gallery in Falmouth.

University of New England Art Gallery, 716 Stevens Ave., Portland: “The Complete City Imagined,” through Jan. 31. In coordination with the Portland Society for Architecture, UNE is showing a collection of maps representing the city of Portland’s past and future possibilities. The exhibition includes historic maps of Portland from the Osher Map Library and maps from “Mapping Portland: The Complete City,” a project that asked the public to use blank maps of Portland to imagine what a complete city looks like.

Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 255 Maine St., Brunswick: “African/American: Two Centuries of Portraits,” through Feb. 9. This exhibition includes portraits of and by leading African-American artists, from before the abolition of slavery to today.

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