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TO FEB. 29
For most of the ’30s, the Mississippi-born novelist Eudora Welty took photographs throughout the South, first as an amateur and then as a professional for such outlets as Life magazine and the federal Works Progress Administration. This National Museum of Women in the Arts exhibition collects more than 50 images (Delegate, Jackson is pictured) from Welty’s largely overlooked oeuvre, with results that—at seven decades’ remove—are decidedly mixed. At times, Welty’s work hews too closely to Southern clichés, from impossibly angelic portrayals of African-American children and their teacher in a Sunday school to an overly stagey gathering of farmhands lounging around a guitarist. What carries the show beyond celebrity-asterisk status are such images as Farmers in Town, Crystal Springs and Side Show, State Fair, Jackson, in which the small-town subjects seem genuinely unaffected by the camera’s presence. Welty was capable of producing images that continue to assert a startling freshness. She displays a knack for bold geometrics—a symphony of parallel ticking and floorboards in a ramshackle mattress factory, a fluidly overlapping series of Ferris wheels, and an arrangement of bold, proto-Ruscha diagonals defined, improbably, by the heads of people sitting atop a boxcar. Most impressive of all is Welty’s attention to details that unobtrusively but effectively speak to the difficulty of life during the Great Depression—the ragged clothes of two figures lugging ice down a dirt road, or the beautiful, well-dressed child sitting on a sturdy-looking porch fence whose bare feet reveal a layer of grime. The show is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and from noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, to Sunday, Feb. 29, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW. $8. (202) 783-5000. (Louis Jacobson)