NCMA Recommends: Toy Pieta

Scott Avett, Toy Pieta, 2018, oil on canvas, 106 — 65 in., Purchased with funds from the William R. Roberson Jr. and Frances M. Roberson Endowed Fund for North Carolina Art, 2019

This painting by artist Scott Avett, also a musician and songwriter, is a portrait of his family. Like his songs, Avett’s portraits of his family speak to both personal and universal issues of love and loss, heartache and joy.

In Toy Pieta his wife, Sarah, is depicted in the foreground surrounded by their children, while the artist appears in the background by himself. The composition and title refer to the iconic image of motherhood found throughout art history–the piet –in which Mary cradles the body of Jesus in her arms.

There is a palpable emotional intensity, vulnerability, and intimacy in Avett’s portraits. They resonate with the unconditional love and simultaneous utter exhaustion of being a parent. He effectively conveys the physical weight and burden of being a parent with the nuanced palette, composition, and scale of the painting. We see a mother whose face is portrayed at a scale that moves into our space, and who looks directly at us, unguarded, unflinching, and honest. Sentimental, nostalgic, and at the same time deeply real, like his song lyrics, Avett’s portrait of motherhood lets the viewer in. –Linda Dougherty, Chief Curator and Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Mindful Museum: Slow-Art Appreciation

Join us on Wednesday, May 19, for an hour-long virtual program that offers centering techniques and a breathing practice followed by an intentional observation of Avett’s Toy Pieta. Calm the mind and experience art in a deeper way.

Video Shorts

Scott Avett speaks with curator Linda Dougherty about how family influences his painting.

Ellen Hathaway pursued other careers and stayed home with her children before becoming a full-time painter. Treat your mother to a relaxing moment of pure artistic process with this video filmed in Hathaway’s Artspace studio.

Sally Mann’s photographs of her children offer an intense vision of artist as mother and mother as artist. This segment reveals the laborious process involved in combining her family and her art in a way that appears effortless.

Mother’s Day Musical Offerings

Our friends at the Kennedy Center have brought together two incredible musicians to discuss motherhood in music. Singer, emcee, and activist Maimouna Youssef (aka Mumu Fresh) speaks with Lido Pimienta, a Toronto-based, Colombian-born musician, interdisciplinary artist, and curator. Watch the conversation here.

And enjoy this playlist, celebrating the ones in our lives who have shown us love, tenderness, care, and a way forward through our more uncertain moments.

Audio Description

The recording below is an audio description of Toy Pieta. Audio description is narration for individuals who are blind or have low vision. It is a means to inform them about visual content essential for comprehension.

Critical Conversation

On Sunday, May 23, listen in on a virtual conversation about Mon¨t Noelle Marshall’s short film prophesy with a multigenerational group of Black women and gender-expansive people.+

Film Recommendations

Inspired by Scott Avett’s Toy Pieta, we recommend five films that depict the complexities of motherhood.

  – Mildred Pierce (1945). Director: Michael Curtiz. Film noir about a self-sacrificing mother who would do anything for her daughter. Rent on Amazon or YouTube.
– The Joy Luck Club (1993). Director: Wayne Wang. Based on the best-selling novel by Amy Tan, this film depicts the relationships between Chinese American women and their immigrant mothers. Rent on Amazon or YouTube.
– All About My Mother (1999). Director: Pedro Almodovar. A grief-stricken woman learns what it truly means to be a mother with the surrogate family she finds while searching for her son’s father. Watch on HBO Max or rent on Amazon or YouTube.
  – Mommy (2014). Director: Xavier Dolan. A widowed single mother struggling to raise her son with ADHD gets help from a neighbor. Watch on Tubi or rent on Amazon or YouTube.
– Tully (2018). Director: Jason Reitman. A mother of three finds solace with the night nanny hired to help her. Rent on Amazon or YouTube.

Visit the Museum Store for Mother’s Day Gifts

Kelly Sheppard Murray prides herself on being a mother and local artist. Her sculptural works all have their roots in natural forms. Peruse her colorful pieces currently for sale in the Museum Store.

Reading Recommendations

– Hear from artist-mothers through the stories of their lives and creations in Strong Hearts, Inspired Minds: 21 Artists Who Are Mothers Tell Their Stories by Anne Mavor.
– Motherhood has been a persistent theme in art and visual culture; The Great Mother: Women, Maternity, and Power in Art and Visual Culture, 1900-2015 by Massimiliano Gioni explores 20th- and 21st-century depictions of this role.
– Titus Kaphar describes his latest series of paintings as piet s in this piece on Vulture.


May 07, 2021


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