The Museum’s Nude

For four decades, a large plaster statue of a nude woman greeted visitors to the Pink Palace Museum. The sculpture was created by Memphian Marie Craig. Craig was born in 1908 to Charles “Charlie” and Lillian Craig. Her father worked as the vice president of First National Bank and recalled that his daughter “preferred to mold pretty little things like flowers and figures from…sticky mud” instead of making mud pies. Marie took her first art classes at Central High School before enrolling at the James Lee Memorial Art Academy to continue her studies. She created the plaster “fountain piece” as part of her application to the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts, which offered her admission and a scholarship. After she was offered admission, Mrs. Burr Chapman, the president of the Art Academy, offered to loan the plaster sculpture to the museum in April 1935. Burton Callicott, the artist who painted the murals in the mansion, remembered being asked to patch the statue several times because fingers were broken. The Memphis Art Association, which replaced the Art Academy, donated the statue to the museum in January 1943.

Lobby 2 (2)

Marie had a distinguished career at art school, winning several more scholarships for her studies. One award allowed her to attend the L’École des Beaux Arts in Fontainbleau, France, an hour south of Paris. The L’École des Beaux Arts was created in 1923 as a part of the Conservatoire Americain, which was founded in 1921 at the insistence of General John Pershing to improve the quality of American military music. The Conservatoire focuses on music education while L’École des Beaux Arts concentrates on painting, sculpture and architecture. Craig lived and worked in the chateau while at the school.

After her time at Fontainbleau, she returned to the United States and opened a studio in Boston. She worked in bronze and marble and received praise for her work. Noted sculptor Loredo Taft once wrote her, “Your figures show grace and charm; I shall watch your progress with much interest.” Her marble statue of a reclining maiden Lilith, was accepted into an exhibition at the Chicago Art Institute. It was also shown at the 1940 sculpture festival hosted by the National Sculpture Society at the Whitney Museum in New York City. Additionally, her piece Autumn, of a child with grapes, was displayed at the New York World Fair in the Fine Arts Building.

When World War II began, Marie trained as a nurses’ aide before deciding to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps in 1942. She trained at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, before being stationed in Boston where she was killed in a traffic accident in August 1943. Some of her pieces can be seen in the Crystal Grotto at Memphis Memorial Park Cemetery, and her Study in Marble is part of the permanent collection at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Unfortunately, the plaster woman at the Pink Palace was broken on Halloween 1969 when it was moved. No record remains of what happened to it afterwards.

Thanks to Marilyn Masler, Associate Registrar at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, for providing information for this post.
Robert Talley, “Statue to Become Memorial: Momument for Marie Craig to Be Own ‘Study in Marble,’” Memphis Commercial Appeal, 1944.

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Plein Air Paintings

The institutions that make up the Memphis Pink Palace Family of Museums are among the most architecturally interesting structures in the city, which makes them frequent subjects of works of art. Bill Branch is one artist who has captured some of our buildings in his chosen medium. Branch is a watercolor artist who prefers to paint in the open air (en plein air). He says, “I am led to subjects to paint that are architectural and manmade, or the great subjects of nature itself. My other passion is history, or local history. Since moving to Memphis, I have recorded some of the more recognizable sites of the city.”

Grand Old Lady-Mallory Neely painting

Pink Palace Museum painting

These images are published with the permission of the artist. For more information about Bill Branch and to see his other works, please visit Paintings by Bill Branch or http://www.billbranchartist.com/.

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A Verse for the Pink Palace

The Pink Palace serves many functions —a place to collect and care for objects related to the MidSouth, an educational facility, a venue to get married and a motivation for creative works. Mark Doty is one person whose visit to the museum inspired a personal interpretation. Doty is a well-respected contemporary poet who currently teaches at Rochester University in addition to writing. His poems and prose works won the 2008 National Book Award for Poetry, a T.S. Eliot Prize in the United Kingdom and many other commendations. He included the poem “The Pink Palace” in his first published book titled Turtle. Swan.
Youth Department 6

The Pink Palace

My father would take me, Saturdays,
to an unfinished mansion: a rich eccentric
had built a few rooms and a facade
of pink granite before the money ran out
and the fragments became property of the state,
a museum for children. Of what
I’m not sure—I remember only one room,
a wall of tiny doors, some at floor level,
others all the way up to the ceiling.
I would open the lowest; he would hoist me
to others so I could stare inside until
he grew tired of holding me. Behind the doors,
behind glass, a tree, huge in memory,
hung with all the glory of taxidermy: robin
and jay, squirrels racing or paused, sitting upright,
everything that lived overhead.

Many windows: each would yield
a little. I thought if I could see it all
the tree would spread like a Sunday school story
of paradise, bearing up on its branches
all the finished houses of heaven. And these
were the citizens: openmouthed blackbird
fixed in the position of cry, eggs
arranged in the nest, incapable of change.
I know I magnified the tree.
Maybe if I’d see it all at once
it could never have held so many—
the visible, the mostly hidden,
glowing feathers behind the leaves.
Were there leaves at all?

That summer the outings with my father ended.
The Pink Palace, and then nothing.
Whatever he intended, what he showed me
seemed a lesson—that no single view will hold.
As if he knew I’d need to tell myself
A story—one strong enough to carry me,
and not in his favor—and whatever I told myself
would be incomplete, that nothing will ever
be finished except the past, which is too large
to apprehend at once. All that changes
is the frame we choose. And so he said
as he clutched my waist between his two big hands, See,
look at this one, and held me higher.

—Mark Doty
From Turtle. Swan by Mark Doty
Reprinted with permission of David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc.
Copyright © 1987

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Disaster Planning—The Undead Protocol

A disaster preparedness and emergency response plan is considered to be a core document for professional museum operations. The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) states that a good disaster plan needs to be specific to a museum’s facilities, cover all relevant risks, include evacuation plans and state how the collections will be protected during a catastrophe. It also should delegate responsibilities for staff members. As an accredited museum, the Pink Palace has a disaster plan that clearly establishes what should be done in the event of natural disasters, manmade problems and uprisings of the undead.

Zombie palace

In the event of a zombie apocalypse, all museum personnel will be notified by the administration that the undead protocol will be going into effect. While the staff moves to their assigned locations, the security guards will alert visitors via the speaker system that they should move in an orderly fashion towards the CTI 3D Giant Theater. Gift shop, membership and ticketing are responsible for securing the doors. Security will barricade the loading dock. Planetarium, special events and Bella Caffe staff will raid all refrigerators and store rooms for supplies. Public affairs will set up exterior surveillance while administration and facilities will be responsible for walking through the galleries to herd the stragglers into the theater. Education and CTI Theater will make the theater, lobby, classrooms and offices ready for the siege, including setting up triage areas. Finally, the exhibits department will find all sharp implements and create a stockpile in classroom number one.

Since the theater is located in the basement, it has the fewest number of access points, thus allowing for controlled movement. The loading dock will be barricaded using the equipment from the education labs. Once everyone has made it to the theater lobby, the doors will be locked. There will be no admittance once the theater doors have closed. Then we wait and hope the National Guard arrives in a timely manner. If the doors are broken, grab something and start hacking.

As for the collections, since the museum has no actual brains in the collection, they are expected to be safe from intentional destruction. The theater lobby and education offices do not house artifacts so funneling the zombies in that direction should avoid damages. Some objects may be broken or destroyed in the event that zombies do invade the building; however, after careful consideration, the staff has decided that it is most important to secure the living flesh. The artifacts will be carefully examined for damages once the zombies have been removed from the premises.

Additionally, no matter what he says, no one is to let the shrunken head out of his case.

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