A.E. Backus Museum and Gallery photography exhibit goes inside state’s churches

The A.E. Backus Museum and Gallery presents Tuned to the Spirit: Photographs from the Sacred Steel Community March 11 – May 8, 2022. The Museum will be debuting the traveling exhibition which highlights more than twenty years of “Sacred Steel” photography and its notable Fort Pierce connection.

In the late 1930s, two related African American Holiness-Pentecostal churches began incorporating a novel, modern instrument into worship services – the electric steel guitar. The expressive and energetic music rendered on the instrument soon became essential to the spirited worship services. Today, with more than fifty congregations throughout the state, Florida is a stronghold for the House of God and Church of the Living God, where musicians have passed down the unique musical tradition known as “sacred steel” for generations. Two of these churches (House of God No. 1 and House of God No. 2) are located in the City of Fort Pierce.

In three decades of work, photographer and folklorist Robert L. Stone has documented this music and church culture through images (photography, video) and audio recording. Tuned to the Spirit presents a selection of more than thirty soulful images, augmented by music performances accessed in the exhibition through QR Codes on visitors’ mobile devices. Stone’s 2003 documentary film “Sacred Steel: The Steel Guitar Tradition of the House of God Churches” will also be available to see historic footage of these important musicians.

Stone, based in Gainesville, Florida, worked for the Florida Folklife Program as Statewide Outreach Coordinator where he conducted extensive field documentation and co-curated the large traveling exhibition Florida Cattle Ranching: Five Centuries of Tradition, which has been viewed by more than 600,000 visitors from Florida to Nevada. Stone edited the exhibition catalog, which was published in February 2013 by the Florida Cattlemen’s Foundation, and has contributed more than sixty feature articles to the Florida Cattleman magazine. His documentary photos have been featured in numerous other exhibitions and published in NewsweekThe New York TimesForumWooden Boat and other print media as well.

During his tenure with Florida Folklife, he co-produced the “Music from the Sunshine State” and “Voices of Florida” radio programs, conducted fieldwork in a variety of cultural communities, and discovered in South Florida the use of steel guitars in African American Pentecostal House of God churches. This decades-long tradition was relatively unknown outside of that small religious community, prompting Stone to write Sacred Steel: Inside an African American Steel Guitar Tradition and produce eight CD albums of the music for Arhoolie Records. His latest book, Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus! Photographs from the Sacred Steel Community was published in 2020 by University Press of Mississippi.

On Saturday, March 19 at 4:00 pm, the Backus Museum will convene a panel discussion, “When the Spirit Moves: Appreciating a Unique American Steel Guitar Tradition” with guests Dr. Eric Lewis Williams, Curator of Religion, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; Elder Elton Noble, steel guitarist and pastor of Fort Pierce House of God No. 2; and Robert L. Stone, folklorist and photographer. The program will illuminate this dynamic cultural tradition, with live music demonstration. Tickets are $5 with Limited Seating and available at www.BackusMuseum.org. Attendees are asked to please observe all public health guidance.

Tuned to the Spirit: Photographs from the Sacred Steel Community is drawn from The Robert Stone Sacred Steel Archive, part of the Arhoolie Foundation Collection. The exhibition is supported by the Arhoolie Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the documentation, preservation, and celebration of regional roots music and its makers. Learn more at www.Arhoolie.org.

About the A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery

Since its founding in 1960 and the first day the doors opened in 1961, the A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery has been a center and catalyst for creativity and culture in our region. The Museum houses the nation’s largest public presentation of artwork by Florida’s preeminent painter, A.E. “Bean” Backus (1906-1990), and is home to the state’s only permanent multimedia exhibition on the Florida Highwaymen.

In addition to preserving and perpetuating the artistic and humanitarian legacy of Backus, the Museum organizes and hosts changing exhibitions from artists of regional, national and international acclaim. The Backus Museum was recognized as the 2021 Best Tourist Attraction / Best of the Treasure Coast by the readers of Indian River Magazine.

Regular Hours: Wednesday – Saturday, 10 AM to 4 PM; Sunday, 12 Noon to 4 PM (closed Monday-Tuesday). The Museum is closed Easter Sunday. Admission is $5 per person; AARP, AAA, and Veterans with appropriate ID receive a $2 discount. Students with school ID, children under 18, active duty military, and current members are always free. Visitors are asked to follow the latest public health guidance for the safety and comfort of guests, staff, and volunteers.

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