Paths to Freedom Exhibit

The McKissick Museum will present the exhibit Paths to Freedom from June 12 – December 16, 2023. The exhibit features the artist John Dowell’s digitally-edited photographs which examine enslaved people’s relationship to cotton fields. SC Humanities supported this project with a Mini Grant.

In his exhibition Paths to Freedom, Philadelphia-based artist John Dowell uses digitally enhanced photographs of cotton fields to evoke the experiences of enslaved people as they sought their freedom from bondage. This body of work started with Dowell responding to the question, “What would an enslaved person feel and think the night before escaping bondage? Where would they get the strength and courage to start such a dangerous journey?”

John Dowell began his studies at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia with an initial interest in sculpture, but he shifted and developed a passion for printmaking and ceramics. Dowell received his BFA in 1963, graduating with honors.  He later received a fellowship to the Tamarind Lithographic Workshop in Los Angeles, California, where he honed his collaborative lithographic printing technique and printed for the likes of Josef Albers, Sam Frances, Nathan Oliveira, and Louise Nevelson among other renowned 20th century artists.   He continued his studies in printmaking and drawing at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA, earning an MFA in 1966. Dowell served on the faculty of Temple University’s Tyler School of Art for 42 years, from 1971 to 2013, including a stint at the campus extension in Rome, Italy. An artist and master printer, Dowell’s prints, paintings, and photographs have been featured in more than 50 one-person exhibitions and represented in the permanent collections of 70 museum and public collections.

Dr. Frank Martin, a scholar in art history and native South Carolinian, brings his experiences and knowledge to the exhibition as curator. Martin will place cotton in the context of its historical importance and its place in African American visual culture. He will facilitate several events in conjunction with the exhibition, including a documentary screening, a discussion with a scholar of African American history, and a panel discussion with Dowell. Together, the exhibition and events will engage audiences in thoughtful considerations of how cotton, the institution of slavery, and the southern experience, both historically and presently, are intimately intertwined.

Upcoming special events include:

Exploring “Paths to Freedom” with John E. Dowell
Tuesday, September 26, 2023 | 5:30 – 7:00 p.m.
Join master printmaker and photographer John E. Dowell, Professor Emeritus at Temple University, as he discusses the inspiration behind Paths to Freedom and the process he used to create his artwork.  
Location: McKissick Museum, 816 Bull St, Columbia, SC 29208
Info: (803) 777-7251

Dr. Frank Martin and Dr. Nancy Tolson Talk About Different Paths to Interpreting John Dowell’s Artwork
Thursday, November 9, 2023 | 6:00 – 7:30 p.m.
Guest curator Dr. Frank Martin and Dr. Nancy Tolson, Assistant Director of African-American Studies at the University of South Carolina, will talk about how different academic disciplines—art history and African-American studies—offer multiple ways of seeing, understanding and interpreting the experience John Dowell has created with Paths to Freedom.
Location: McKissick Museum, 816 Bull St, Columbia, SC 29208
Info: (803) 777-7251

Established in 1976, the McKissick Museum is located at the heart of the historic Horseshoe on the University of South Carolina’s campus. The collections date back to 1801 and provide insight into the history of the university and the community, culture, and environment of the American South. Learn more about hours, parking, and other information related to visiting the McKissick Museum:

The mission of SC Humanities is to enrich the cultural and intellectual lives of all South Carolinians. Established in 1973, this 501(c) 3 organization is governed by a volunteer 20-member Board of Directors comprised of community leaders from throughout the state. It presents and/or supports literary initiatives, lectures, exhibits, festivals, publications, oral history projects, videos and other humanities-based experiences that directly or indirectly reach more than 250,000 citizens annually. South Carolina Humanities receives funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as corporate, foundation and individual donors. The National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.

Image: Ancestral Dance, copyright John Dowell  2020