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Side by Side by Graham

The Ashby-Hodge Gallery of American Art at Central Methodist College is mounting a major exhibition of the works of the late Missouri artist Robert MacDonald Graham Jr. Graham, an internationally known artist and former student of Thomas Hart Benton, died in February 2000 in Kansas City at the age of 80.

Titled "Side by Side by Graham," the exhibition will open March 25. The show features Graham's large-scale acrylic-on-canvas paintings of two series of works that are part of the Gallery's permanent collection: "Missouri Springs" and "Missouri Historic Heritage Sites."

Also being shown are two newly acquired Graham paintings - "The Dining Room," a large acrylic-on-canvas painting of the dining room in the Asheville, N.C., house that had been owned by early 20th century novelist Thomas Wolfe, and a smaller work titled "The Birthday Party." "The Dining Room," painted in 1989 by Graham, was awarded the Ralph Fabri Medal during a New York City exhibition in 1994.

Graham made a gift of the 12 "Missouri Springs" paintings to the College in 1998. The paintings represent some of Missouri's most beautiful natural areas and include the magnificent Big Spring at Big Spring Park near Van Buren and Blue Spring, both in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways; picturesque Alley Spring and Mill and Round Spring near Eminence; Bennett Spring near Lebanon; and several other well-known major springs of the Missouri Ozarks.

Graham's 12 "Missouri Historic Heritage Site" paintings include paintings of the Rotunda of the Capitol Building at Jefferson City; George Washington Carver National Monument near Diamond; the historic Catholic Church at St. Genevieve; and the Winston Churchill Memorial at Fulton.

Both the Heritage and Springs series paintings were completed during the 1980s.

A native of Missouri, Graham lived in the Kansas City suburb of Greenwood. He was born in 1919 in New York City. He started painting when he was 14 years old. He studied with Thomas Hart Benton at the Kansas City Art Institute from 1937 to 1941 and with Jules Van Vlasselaer at Hoger Institute voor Schone, Antwerp, Belgium, from 1948 to 1949. One of his first professional assignments was as a combat artist in Australia, New Guinea and Japan during World War II; a number of his works are represented in the Pentagon collection.

Graham taught art at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Texas. His biography is listed in "Who's Who in American Art," "Men of Achievement" and the International Biographics Center, Cambridge, England.

Graham's works have been reproduced by the New York Geographic Society, and many of his original works are held in private and public collections. These include the archives of the Hubert H. Humphrey Center, Minneapolis; Georgetown University Collection, Washington, D.C.; Sowolski Collection, Sarasota, Fla.; Thomas Hart Benton Collection, Kansas City; Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; Grumbacher Collection, New York City; and The Ashby-Hodge Gallery of American Art at Central Methodist College.

Graham was a several-times recipient of the M.J. Kaplan Award presented by the National Society of Painters in Casein and Acrylics (NSPCA), of which he was also elected a member. In 1991, he was awarded the John J. Newman Medal, NSPCA, by the National Arts Club.

Graham's style has been described as both poetic and haunting. His strong use of color reflects the influence of Benton. And the luminosity of his work shows the influence of artists such as Eakins, Homer, Turner and Vermeer, painters known for their use of light and shadow.