Julia and Varina Take Tea opening reception set for Thursday

For the Daily News

The MSU Department of Art and CAAD presents an exhibition of Interior Design Assistant Professor Annie Coggan-Crawford's objects, drawings and installations at the Visual Art Center Gallery 808 University Ave.
Her work, based on the reading of history, visits to house museums and pilgrimages to historic sites result in a built manifestation, a chair and room, a place.
"The VAC gallery seems to be an ideal situation for Annie's work,” Exhibit Coordinator/Gallery Director Robert Ring says. “Originally this building was designed as faculty apartments in 1939. MSU has now transformed it into a gallery but by keeping the original characteristics of the dwelling. As part of the exhibition Annie has transformed one space into the imagined sitting area of Julia Grant's and Varina Davis's first meeting. In a way this show is about making history material again."
Coggan relates the story of Julia and Varina, the inspiration for the exhibit by going back to 1903.
“The famous widow of Ulysses S. Grant and the famous widow of Jefferson Davis found themselves in a West Point New York resort,” Coggins said.
Coggins said Julia was the first to knock on the other’s door-announcing “I am Mrs. Grant” with Varina responding, “I am very glad to meet you.” And then they had tea.
Coggins said her work tries to examine questions of economics, sensibility and cultural values by reinventing the material culture of the subject.
“The research provides the impetus for design decisions and offers a take on history, identity and values by embellishing the reality with design intervention,” Coggins said.
Also included in this exhibition are several works of embroidered furniture. Coggan’s method of working through embroidery and upholstered furniture is part of a career- long exploration in the relationship between furniture and storytelling.
“The stories on the furniture illustrate the journeys the two women each made through the war years,” Coggins said.
For the Ulysses S. Grant Collection at Mississippi State University reading room, Coggan designed two upholstered pieces of furniture that would illustrate Grant’s military movements through the Mississippi countryside during the Civil War. The Loveseat illustrates Grant first campaign through the state and the arm chair depicts the stronghold that Vicksburg presented. These pieces are on view courtesy of the Ulysses S. Grant Collection.
Along with the embroidered furniture the exhibition includes the Walker Evan chairs.
“IF Walker Evans and Louise Nevelson fell in love and drove down south to spend a year, they would make chairs like this for their garden party,” Coggins said. “They would never be compatible in the traditional sense of the word, but they could throw a good bash."
There will be an opening reception Thursday October 14, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the VAC gallery. The event is free and open to the public.
The exhibition will remain at the Visual Arts Center Gallery until October 28.
Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. The gallery is closed Sundays, Mondays and University holidays.
For more information contact Robert Ring at 325-2075.