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22.13.01 The Burning of Columbia: Painting, Music and Narrative, by Jack Kershaw and Sondra London, 2007

Notes Concerning the Artist

John Karl “Jack” Kershaw (Tennessee, 1913-2010) studied art at Vanderbilt University and in the 1920’s became associated with a group of intellectuals who called themselves The Fugitive Poets.  In the 1930s, he worked as Federal director of the Tennessee Art Project.  He also served as an art consultant for The Kenyon Review and for Nashville Mayor Ben West, and was a member of the first Tennessee Arts Commission.  His work prior to 1950 consisted mostly of portraits (both paintings and sculptures), and paintings of landscapes and interiors.  In 1953, as Chairman of the Nashville Committee for the Coordination of the Arts, Kershaw was instrumental in developing the lower level of the Nashville Parthenon for use as a permanent art gallery.  Around this time he and his wife, the former Mary Noel, decided to attend law school; he was admitted to the bar in the 1960s.  However, he continued to paint, sculpt and draw, becoming more interested in abstract works.  Purchasers of his art from 1938-1980 included recording artists Dinah Shore, and Grace Creswell, Penn Warren, Tupper Saussy, The City of Nashville, and Prince Alexander of Hohenzollern (who commissioned a portrait).  

His later paintings took an increasingly surreal tone and focused heavily on historical elements including paintings mourning the loss of the culture and political independence of the Old South.  The Civil War provided frequent subject material, most notably his 25-foot sculpture of Nathan Bedford Forrest leading his troops on a fierce cavalry charge.  It stands on private property in the Nathan Bedford Forrest Memorial Park in Nashville.  

Kershaw was also a political figure. He was one of the attorneys representing James Earl Ray, who confessed to killing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He was a co-founder of the League of the South, which advocated for much greater State Rights.

The Video

In this brief video, while the camera scans about the Kershaw’s painting, he narrates the story and pianist Sondra London provides moving music.

Click below to watch the video: