The Code of the West by John Steuart Curry


Larry & Barbara Marshall Family Balcony, 404

In the mid 19th century, river men plumbed the Mississippi’s depths with a lead line. They called out the depth in fathoms (six-foot increments) using antique language, such as “twain” for two. A safe depth of two fathoms (12 feet) would then be announced as “mark twain,” a regional idiom that author Samuel Clemens adopted as his pen name. These soundings assured safe passage of their craft through the river’s tricky and treacherous currents.

Happily, present-day museum curators do not face such life-threatening dangers in their work. However, measuring the depth and richness of a museum’s collection is still a vital and ongoing initiative. In the exhibition Soundings, guest curator Charles C. Eldredge, KU’s Hall Family Foundation Distinguished Professor emeritus, turns a fresh eye on treasures retrieved from storage. Eldredge illuminates objects that suggest the exceptional strength and depth of the Spencer Museum of Art’s collection, which has entered its second century. This exhibition is a personal reflection of the Museum’s prized objects over which Eldredge presided as Spencer Museum director from 1971–1982.

The works are largely by American artists, which has been Eldredge’s research focus. On many of the exhibition labels he has added brief, personal comments regarding the artist, the artwork, or observations that might prompt contemplation or discussion by visitors.

This exhibition is supported by KU Student Senate.

Selected images