Gallery Security Officer Lilian Woods has been working at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art since last December. That’s thirty-six weeks at 40 hours a week, which roughly (art school math) equals 1,440 hours on her feet–and when the galleries are not full of visitors, looking at art. Her favorite piece is Light of the Incarnation by Carl Gutherz. Smart choice for a Brooks’ employee: It was Gutherz who first committed the idea of an art museum in Memphis’ Overton Park to paper. In 1906, as a favor to Mrs. EA Neely, Gutherz sketched what would later become the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art on the back of sheets of stationary. Later, when Bessie Vance Brooks endowed the project with start-up money in honor of her late husband Samuel Hamilton Brooks (Neely’s husband’s business partner, as it were) architect James Gamble Rogers based his design on this cocktail napkin-esque Gutherz sketch.
But Light of the Incarnation is no sketch. On the museum’s entry level in the 19th century American art gallery, at over 6 1/2′ x 9 1/2′, this painting demands the room. In addition to being large, there are at least 30 gilt relief halos to account for, and innumerable details which reveal themselves as gifts for committed viewers. Mrs. Woods is one of those viewers. Hear her explain what is going on in Light of the Incarnation below: