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NCMA Recommends: Truly Grateful

Beverly McIver, Truly Grateful, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 in., Gift in memory of Janet Martin Lampkin, former member of the executive committee of the Friends of African and African American Art

During turbulent, uncertain times, we are grateful there are artists among us whose gifts make manifest the most recognizable feelings shared across the human experience: joy, fear, anguish, wonder, and love. They create moments when the outside world stops and we are given the opportunity to pause, allowing us to more deeply look, listen, experience, and reflect.

The human experience is often shaped by chaos as we change and adapt to situations, both joyful and hurtful, often beyond our control. The practice of pausing for gratitude—taking the time to assess individual strengths and growth, return kindnesses, and acknowledge and practice the things that bring us joy—can help build resilience and combat anxiety. In the Museum galleries, two paintings that speak to this concept of pausing for gratitude hang side by side (despite being separated by centuries) as part of Interchanges: Cross-Collection Conversations.

Italian artist Sassoferrato preferred a “throwback” style of art, following in the footsteps of Renaissance predecessors like Perugino and Raphael, who were active 100 years prior. Instead of creating typical baroque paintings—dark and dramatic—he is most known for sweet devotional portraits dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who appears in The Virgin in Prayer (circa 1645–1655) with eyes closed and head bowed. Such serene scenes are not limited to the 17th century, nor do they appear only in religious scenes. As Beverly McIver’s Truly Grateful attests, subsequent generations have long taken hints from these art-historical precedents to translate feelings of beatific serenity to secular audiences.

As we look to Truly Grateful in this week’s NCMA Recommends, let us take a collective moment of reflection, inhale a few deep breaths, and remind ourselves of what we have and those we love.

Reading and Reflecting

As we express gratitude for the works on the Museum walls, let’s take a moment to reflect on the varied meanings they might hold for each individual visitor. Follow along with Langston Miller and Victoria Scott-Miller of Liberation Station as they read poems and stories in front of works that inspire deeper introspection for children and families.

The Ties That Bind

Like Truly Grateful, this week’s films help us contemplate the universal themes of gratitude and love that connect us all.—Maria Lopez, Manager of Film and Lecture Programs

Raising Renee (2011). Directors: Jeanne Jordan, Steven Ascher. This intimate and candid documentary chronicles artist Beverly McIver as she becomes caregiver for her mentally disabled sister while navigating her own career. Watch on Amazon Prime.

Gratitude Revealed. Director: Louie Schwartzberg. Fifteen short films explore the science, mystery, and meaning of gratitude and why it is needed to help us feel less disconnected. Watch the introductory video here. Watch the complete series here.

StoryCorps Special: Listening Is an Act of Love (2013). Directors: The Rauch Brothers. Six stories from 10 years of StoryCorps, where everyday people sit down together to ask life’s important questions. Watch on YouTube.

Touching a Deep Chord

Beverly McIver’s gentle and heartfelt work Truly Grateful reminds us of how profound the practice of gratitude can be. To that end, we offer you a revisit of our gratitude playlist to accompany you through a range of emotions.—Janette Hoffman, Acting Artistic Director and General Manager, Outdoor Amphitheater

See More from McIver

Durham gallery Craven Allen opens the exhibition The Light Within on Saturday, November 14, featuring new works of art by Beverly McIver created during the pandemic. The show can be viewed in the gallery with social distancing, as well as online on Craven Allen’s Beverly McIver gallery page.

From the gallery site: “A nationally known artist who has been named Top Ten in Painting by Art News, Beverly McIver was working nonstop, teaching classes at Duke, leading workshops all over the country, caregiving for her family, and painting when she could. When Covid hit, along with all of 2020’s racial and political turbulence, McIver’s life changed dramatically. McIver faced the chaos and isolation the only way she knew how—through paint.”

Virtual Slow Art Appreciation

Join us in observing and reflecting on Truly Grateful by Beverly McIver. This free virtual program on Wednesday, November 18, guides you through centering techniques and a breathing practice followed by an intentional observation of the piece. For ages 16 and up.


Nov 06, 2020


10:00 AM - 11:00 AM
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Wednesday through Sunday, from 10 am to 5 pm
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