Alabama is known for many things – from college football to the birthplace of the civil rights movement. Its abundance of architecturally diverse historic buildings may be less known, but becoming more apparent with the work of Montgomery architectural portraitist Melissa B. Tubbs, who uses pen and ink to capture the beauty and rich detail of Alabama buildings.
An exhibit called “Celebration & Preservation: Drawing Alabama’s Architectural History” contains 25 of her pen and ink drawings of architecturally significant buildings throughout the state. The exhibit, which coincides with Alabama’s bicentennial, is in Gadsden until Feb. 23 and will travel to several more Alabama communities.
The exhibit has two objectives: expose viewers to Alabama’s diverse architecture and make them aware of the arduous process of pen and ink drawing.
Tubbs recalls that she thought, “It’s no fun to draw these if I can’t show them.”
With that in mind, she set out to raise money for the exhibit which got easier once she was backed by the Alabama Bicentennial Commission. She divided the state in five sections and then selected five buildings from each section.
The exhibit is organized chronologically starting with Ivy Green, Helen Keller’s birthplace built in 1820 and ends with the Goat House, a 1997 project by Auburn University’s Rural Studio.
Some are well known like the Monroe County Courthouse immortalized in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and others known only in their immediate vicinity. The buildings represent many styles from Georgian and Victorian Gothic to Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern.
Because Alabama has so many worthy older buildings, limiting her selection to 25 was difficult and she managed not to duplicate building types.
“I’d see a great church and think ‘you already have a church’ or ‘you already have a courthouse.’”
Tubbs uses a Nikon D50 with an extra long zoom lens. She takes several photographs of the overall subject, along with detailed photographs at different exposures to record areas of sunlight and shadow.
Snapping pictures for more than 20 years, people have suggested that she show her photos as well as her drawings. But Tubbs says her photos are “a tool and not the end product.”
Once she is ready to draw, a basic design is sketched on paper with a graphite pencil. Concentrating on one small section at a time, she builds up layers of ink and depth through a combination of hatched and crosshatched marks until the subject is defined. She then reinforces overall shadow patterns to pull the individual areas together into a unified drawing.
“In black and white you are working strictly with values,” explains Tubbs, who stays busy with continual commissions. “Because we see in color, we have to work at looking at black and white.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in visual design from Auburn University, Tubbs began a career in commercial design. She has won awards and her drawings have appeared in many publications and exhibitions from Montgomery to New York.
A 32-page catalog accompanying the exhibition includes images of the drawings and information about each building. The catalog is for sale at the exhibits and online at her Etsy shop. The drawings in the exhibit are also for sale and several have sold so far. Buyers just have to wait to take possession until the traveling exhibition is over.
“Celebration & Preservation: Drawing Alabama’s Architectural History” schedule:
• Through Feb. 23, 2018: Gadsden Museum of Art , Gadsden
• May 4 – 25, 2018: Cultural Arts Center, Arts and Humanities Council of Tuscaloosa County, Tuscaloosa
• June 4 – 29, 2018: Danielle Juzan Gallery, Mobile Arts Council, Mobile
• October – November 2018: Johnson Center for the Arts, Troy
• January – March 2019: The Georgine Clarke Alabama Artists Gallery, Alabama State Council on the Arts, Montgomery
• June 2019: Tennessee Valley Museum of Art, Tennessee Valley Art Association, Tuscumbia
*Dates are not yet finalized at later locations.
Image 1: This is one of 25 pen and ink drawings by Melissa Tubbs that is part of the exhibition, the circa 1904 Eufaula Carnegie Public Library, Eufaula, Barbour County, Alabama. Style: Italianate. Dimension: 6 5/8″ x 9 5/8″.
Image 2: Pen and ink by Melissa Tubbs of the circa 1930 Golden Eagle Syrup Co., Inc., Fayette, Fayette County, Alabama. Style: Early Twentieth Century Commercial. Dimension: 6″ x 11″. This drawing is also in the exhibition.
Image 3: Tubbs’ pen and ink of the courthouse immortalized in “To Kill a Mockingbird” is in the exhibition – the 1903 Old Monroe County Courthouse, in Monroeville, Monroe County, Alabama. Style: Eclecticism. Dimensions: 10″ x 6 15/16″.
Image 4: Also included in the exhibition is this pen and ink by Melissa Tubbs of the circa 1935 Ritz Theater, Greenville, Butler County, Alabama. Style: Art Deco. Dimensions: 9″ x 6″.
Article Written By Jessica Armstrong & Images Courtesy of Melissa Tubbs (please note that images may appear different in different browsers or on different devices)