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Mayes Portrait by Eleanor Dickinson

Scholar and artist Eleanor Dickinson is responsible for getting Henry Harrison Mayes work into the Library of Congress. She conducted countless interviews with the Mayes, brought Rev. Howard Finster and Brother Mayes together, and documented the culture of the mountain folks.

The book REVIVAL! contains Dickinson’s beautiful line-drawings, photos of religious services, artifacts, and stories by Barbara Benziger.

In the book “Revival!,” Dickinson’s artwork and Barbara Benziger’s text describe and depict Southern Appalachian revival meetings. In her interview with David Taylor, Dickinson stated that she is drawn to ecstatic moments of human experience. In the most basic sense, a revival is a spiritual awakening or reawakening. By means of this finding aid, the collection is now more readily discovered, through the never-sleeping medium of the Internet.

Finding aid to Eleanor Dickinson fieldwork collection now online
December 13, 2016 by Nicole Saylor

Luckily, archive.org has full digital copy to check out (Printed books are still available online)


Eleanor Dickinson has been deservedly acknowledged as one of the country’s most powerful artists committed to figure drawing, and perhaps with no other subject matter in her career to date has her uniquely clear, strong, and austere approach to the medium found as appropriate a means of expression as in her Revival! drawings. There is in Dickinson’s artistry and in the nature of the revival meetings themselves a union of simplicity of materials and setting combined with high emotional content and substance.
Elizabeth Coffelt has perceptively described Dickinson’s work as intuitive and direct, involving great stillness and concentration. Undertaken with no preliminary sketches or even sketching motion common to the drawing experience, but rather with an “unbroken, fluid motion of her whole arm that describes a critical point of action,” her technique involves the use of a felt-tip marking pen on large sheets of paper. She works as simply and quickly as possible with a sure, even, unbroken linear outline. It is the facial expression and bodily posture of her subjects that concern her; virtually no reference is made to her subjects’ physical setting in the drawings. Coffelt, who has observed Dickinson at work, describes the process as follows: “The result is a gradual, almost imperceptible emergence of the image on paper; there seems to be little happening at first. It is much like watching the image emerge on sensitized paper in the darkroom. Magically, it is all there at once. And the drawing stops.”
This book represents the current embodiment of an extraordinary project which began for Eleanor Creekmore Dickinson seven years ago in her native Knoxville, Tennessee. It was here that she visited a tent revival to draw the participants. The total engagement and highly charged passion of this revival meeting was of such impact to compel her, step by step, to absorb every aspect she possibly could of the phenomenon. As the project developed, she made hundreds of on-site figure drawings, hours of tape recordings of the services, photographed the settings as thoroughly as she might, and collected every sort of transportable object related to the revival manifestation: handbills, hymnals, signs, and all manner of ephemera.
Serious critics of Dickinson’s work, while acknowledging the power and quality of her drawings, have taken exception to what seemed to them the superfluous environmental context in which the Revival! drawings are presented. Often they have been seemingly indifferent to the compelling documentary concerns developing with her artistry. On the occasion of this publication, it seems important to consider for a moment the spare tradition (and yet one of major consequence within American art) where esthetic and documentary functions have united.
One need only recall Audubon in the late 18th century—an artist’s engagement with natural history; George Catlin in the early 19th century and his social documentation of the American Indians; Timothy O’Sullivan later in the 19th century as the great photo-journalist chronicler of our Civil War and later documentarian of the Far West. All of this work has long since assumed not only its place in the archives of social history but also on the walls of our art museums. Perhaps the greatest example in our time of the fully esthetic union of visual images, words, and data relating to specific members of our culture was created by James Agee and Walker Evans in their profoundly moving Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. It is in the context of such work that we might best view the achievement of Eleanor Dickinson’s Revival!
There is a certain sadness within the tradition of work of which I have spoken. These phenomena—those of the animal kingdom, passionately regarded areas of our own culture, and of course the land itself —vanish even as we observe and reflect. Dickinson has commented:
Although Pentecostal religion is steadily growing in the United States, every year there are fewer of the small revival tents. Many of the phenomena depicted may become extinct, as they are now remote. I was privileged to be the guest of these evangelical groups—to draw, photograph, and make tape recordings. I statisfied the evangelists and the people that my intent was artistic and documentary. Indeed, I believe they felt me to be a kind of missionary.
The first public manifestation of the Revival! project was organized by Nina Felshin for The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in September of 1970. This exhibition and its subsequent toui are decribed in the ensuing text, much of which was compiled from the over-200 hours of Dickinson’s tapes of revival meetings. At the time, while on the staff of the Corcoran, I was enormously impressed, not only with the nature of Dickinson’s total project, the exhibit itself, and her skill as an artist, but with her great patience and determination in bringing a unique project to fruition. While maintaining the distance necessary to function as artist and social documentarian (she has functioned throughout as a participant-observer much as an ethnologist engaged in field work), her own emotional involvement must be said to have often reached the peak and nature of that native to revivals. However, she has conscientiously sought to approach the subject with open, direct simplicity. It must be stressed that Dickinson’s primary discipline is that of a graphic artist, and it is ultimately through an artist’s eye that she has engaged in Revival!

Foreword REVIVAL! by Walter Hopps, National Collection of Fine Arts Smithsonian Institution

Also available:

Revival! Exhibition Catalog – by Barbara Benziger and Eleanor Dickinson

That Old-Time Religion – One Hundered Hymns, Songs, and Stories, by Barbara Benziger and Eleanor Dickinson

Snake Handler by Eleanor Dickinson

Eleanor Dickinson Website