Stephen Towns painting acquired by Reynolda House Museum

On June 29, 2023, Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, N.C. announced it had acquired “Flora and Lillie,” a painting by Stephen Towns. Towns is a contemporary painter and fiber artist whose recent exhibition, “Stephen Towns: Declaration & Resistance,” examined the American dream through the lives of Black Americans. Using labor as a backdrop, Towns highlighted the role African Americans have played in building the economy and explored how their resilience, resistance and perseverance have challenged the United States to truly embrace the tenets of its Declaration of Independence.

Towns’s “Flora and Lillie” (2022) has an important connection to Reynolda. The painting was inspired by Towns’s Winston-Salem residency during the summer of 2022. During a two-week period, Stephen Towns explored the history of Winston-Salem and the Piedmont Triad, engaging in research and conversation around the many contributions of Black North Carolinians to the industries that transformed the region. In the Reynolda Archives, a photograph of Flora Pledger and Lillie Hamlin—residents of Reynolda’s Five Row, a village for laborers—captured his attention. The photograph is now beautifully reimagined as a work of acrylic, oil and metal leaf on panel.

“I saw this photograph of Flora and Lillie, and no matter where my research took me during my time in Winston-Salem, these women were fixed in the back of my mind saying, ‘paint us, paint us now,’” Stephen Towns said. “I wanted this piece to be one of love and dignity to these women and to all the people who worked at Five Row to make Reynolda House what it is.”

Towns comes by his paintings of working people honestly. That’s the background he comes from. He’s worked in a factory, in food service, in a hospital. He puts that empathy into his paintings.

“Stephen Towns has created an incredibly meaningful painting inspired by the history of African American labor at the Reynolda Estate,” Allison Slaby, curator, Reynolda House Museum of American Art, said. “We are thrilled to have acquired this piece as its acquisition aligns with our goals of adding more work by artists of color to the Reynolda collection.”

Towns’ career has been gaining momentum in recent years, his figurative paintings of Black working people finding resonance with American museums that have long overlooked both subjects.

“‘Flora and Lillie’ belongs at Reynolda,” Allison Perkins, executive director of Reynolda House and Reynolda Gardens, said. “It is a striking painting that honors two individuals whose story will forever be told as part of our permanent collection. We invite everyone to come see it in its new home on the second-floor balcony of the historic house.”

Flora Pledger and Lillie Hamlin photographed at Reynolda’s Five Row.
Flora Pledger and Lillie Hamlin photographed at Reynolda’s Five Row. Courtesy Reynolda Archives.

Hours and Admission

Reynolda House Museum of American Art, located at 2250 Reynolda Rd., is open to visitors Tuesday–Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Admission is charged, though several free admission categories apply. Reynolda Gardens is open from dawn to dusk daily, free of charge. The Greenhouse is open Tuesday–Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Reynolda Village merchants’ hours vary.

About Reynolda

Reynolda is set on 170 acres in Winston-Salem, N.C. and comprises Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Reynolda Gardens and Reynolda Village Shops and Restaurants. The Museum presents a renowned art collection in a historic and incomparable setting: the original 1917 interiors of Katharine and R.J. Reynolds’s 34,000-square-foot home. Its collection is a chronology of American art and featured exhibitions are offered in the Museum’s Babcock Wing Gallery and historic house bedrooms.

The Gardens serve as a 134-acre outdoor horticultural oasis open to the public year-round, complete with colorful formal gardens, nature trails and a greenhouse. In the Village, the estate’s historic buildings are now home to a vibrant mix of boutiques, restaurants, shops and services.

Plan your visit at reynolda.org and use the free mobile app, Reynolda Revealed, to self-tour the estate.

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