Seeking Truth in the Valentine’s New Exhibition: “Sculpting History at the Valentine Studio: Art, Power, and the ‘Lost Cause’ American Myth” Opens January 25, 2024

January 22, 2024

RICHMOND, VA – How does fiction become an accepted truth? How can someone believe a lie? How do history and art influence politics and power? After more than three years of development, the Valentine will open a groundbreaking new exhibition in the Edward Valentine Sculpture Studio that asks these exact questions and more in an exploration of the Lost Cause, its legacy, and those who resisted the myth.

Edward Valentine (1838-1930), a Richmond sculptor and the first president of the Valentine Museum used his sculpture studio for nearly 40 years to create artworks glorifying the Confederacy and helped craft the iconography of the Lost Cause mythology. Now, upon entering the 600 square-foot studio space, visitors will instantly notice the innovative multimedia presentation that projects onto a wall nearly twenty feet high. At second glance, they’ll realize that behind the presentation are 84 of Edward Valentine’s works – a wall of busts that amazes while telling the history of the sculptor and his efforts to disseminate the Lost Cause narrative. Throughout the presentation, which also includes photographs and archival materials, lights are choreographed to illuminate certain works that help tell the deeper stories.

“By looking closely at the art of Edward V. Valentine and its historical, political, and social contexts, both on a local and national level, we see evidence of the power and the process through which imagery reinforces ideology,” says Sculpting History co-curator Dr. Kate Sunderlin, “We show what was (and is) at stake for those promoting Lost Cause mythology and those working to dismantle it.”

After closing the Studio in 2020, the Valentine conducted a region-wide survey, hosted focus groups and engaged a panel of scholars to consider the possibilities for the space. In 2021, the Valentine hired the New York-based architecture firm Studio Joseph and co-curators Josh Epperson and Kate Sunderlin to bring the new vision to life within the 600 square-foot studio. Over the course of 2022, the Valentine worked collaboratively with internal and external partners to hone the themes, language, object list and design concepts.

“Designing through the lens of community during this process has helped unearth missing voices that mainstream society and history have sought to erase,” says Wendy Evans Joseph, founding partner of Studio Joseph, the architecture firm that designed the new exhibition. “The ability to engage with these ideas in the studio of Edward Valentine demonstrates how architectural space can affect meaningful storytelling.”

Sculpting History is divided into five themes: education, violence, religion, money and politics, and media – both art and mass media. These five themes were chosen to highlight the cultural and social centers of power that made dissemination of the Lost Cause myth successful. Each section is not chronological but does address the 1800s to today so that visitors can draw connections from past to present.

“What’s the point in telling history if it doesn’t do something to inform the way we live today, and in the future,” asks Sculpting History co-curator Josh Epperson. “In this exhibition we use plain language to describe how people built systems, created lies, and spent tons of money to create the reality of the south we know. But we also allow viewers to reflect on what choices they can make in their own world to build the future they want. We can’t forget that our society was shaped with intention, it wasn’t an accident.”

The Lost Cause mythology did not just alter the public memory of the Civil War. Its believers also saw disenfranchisement, segregation, and violence as necessary tools to support the myth. “We’ve been able to use the museum’s robust collection of primary sources, including the historic studio structure, to show how this campaign expanded into a larger movement,” says Christina Vida, Valentine Studio Project Manager, “and also share how locals resisted this false narrative from the 1860s through to today.”

Sculpting History is dedicated to fully exploring the promotion and resistance of the Lost Cause myth and is unique in the region for its exploration into the history of racial oppression in Virginia and its connection to public art.

“This exhibition is asking: how do we know what’s true?” says Valentine Director Bill Martin, “But it’s not just about the questions, it’s about providing a framework to begin our journey of discovery and understanding.”

Sculpting History was funded in part by a grant from the Mellon Foundation.

Sculpting History at the Valentine Studio: Art, Power and the “Lost Cause” American Myth opens to the public on January 25, 2024.

In honor of the exhibition the Valentine will host two free admission days on Saturday, January 27th and Sunday, January 28th.

Press Contact
Christina Swanson