MCA Student Artwork Returns to James Lee House
History has come full circle, as artwork from students of Memphis College of Art once again adorns the walls of the James Lee House. MCA professor Maritza Davila will act as curator for a series of exhibitions of work produced by MCA students and faculty. The first exhibition, Return to the Academy, will mark the launch of the Gibson Gallery. The gallery is named in honor of J.W. and Kathy Buckman Gibson, co-owners of James Lee House, in recognition of their lifelong support of the arts in Memphis. “The shared history with the Memphis College of Art is one of the James Lee House’s many charms,” said J.W. Gibson, “and the opportunity to create art and cultivate artistic talent are such important parts of the rich history and quality of life in Memphis.”
The exhibition features the work of MCA printmaking students Elizabeth Escamilla, Margaret Davis, Heather Coleman, Alexandria Bell, Lyman Anderson, Slade Bishop and faculty members Davila and Eszter Sziksz. The work will be on view through with an opening reception on that is open to the public.
Listed on the National Historic Register, the James Lee House began its life as a two-story farmhouse (now the north part of the building) in 1848, and in 1852 was purchased by banker Charles Wesley Goyer. Goyer added a second home, just adjacent to the original house and, in 1872 embarked on a major expansion that included joining the two structures, adding a third floor, a tower, and the home’s current Victorian façade. It was sold to James Lee, Jr. in 1890 and in 1929, Lee’s daughter donated the house to the City of Memphis to become the James Lee Memorial Art Academy, now known as Memphis College of Art. The college relocated to its current campus in Overton Park, designed by architect Roy Harrover, in 1959.
The James Lee House, which has recently reopened as a luxury bed and breakfast after sitting vacant for over 50 years, has been featured in articles in The Huffington Post and The New York Daily News. It was purchased from the City of Memphis for $1 by two members of the current ownership group, José Velazquez and his wife Jennifer. They then began their painstaking restoration effort, preserving much of the home’s historic details. After more than a year and approximately $2.1 million, the new James Lee House had its grand reopening on April 17, 2014.
“It is so exciting to return to our roots at the James Lee House,” said Davila. “The idea of featuring artwork by MCA students and faculty in this space is absolutely perfect and opens many creative possibilities for the Memphis community.”