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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at GWU chapter.

Last week I visited the Kreeger Museum, located in Washington D.C., which holds many stunning pieces from artists such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Helen Frankenthaler. One sculpture, in particular, drew me in. 

Standing in a room surrounded by flat canvases with bright colors and a particular absence of the written word, “Dream Building II” by William Christenberry catches the eye of any viewer. The sculpture, made of mixed media, was created in 1981 in his studio as part of a series of buildings that he imagined in the backcountry of Alabama, his home, during a dream. 

The artist himself deserves some backstory. Christenberry was born in Alabama during the Great Depression in 1936 and grew up amidst incredible racism and violence during the 50s and 60s. In an interview with NPR, he revisits his experiences with the KKK. In 1960, he and a friend planned to go to a meeting they had read about in the newspaper out of curiosity. While his Jewish friend was more reserved and stayed back, Christenberry decidedly went up the courthouse stairs all the way to the third floor before he saw anything suspicious. He then saw a Klansman in a full robe and hood at the top of the steps. The man did not move or turn his head, but rather let only his eyes turn to Christenberry through the slits in the hood. Terrified, the young boy ran away only for the memory to haunt his nightmares for the rest of his life. In the future, he would attend a few open KKK meetings as the group tried to heal its image during the 60s. Being a white man himself, Christenberry experiences a unique sense of guilt and disgust being raised in the South and it has undeniably influenced his art. 

The incredibly pitched roof in the sculpture is reminiscent of the hoods of the KKK, which are notorious for flipping the dimensions of the human head in an eerie and unnatural manner. However, this triangular form has followed him positively as well, reminding him of the architecture of the Christenberry family church. Triangular forms in Southern chapels loom larger than life to Christenberry, and he concerns himself with their disappearance. His church has been abandoned for over thirty years, and other buildings, ones he grew up looking at, are being replaced. In his art now, Christenberry is keen to bring light to the evaporating South, which is sadly beginning to look like everywhere else.

Christenberry’s art serves as a window to the past, and just as his dream buildings have no windows or doors, there is no way we can fully step back into the past because we are no longer welcome. He is known for collecting old signs and replicating such advertisements in his work because they serve as testaments to the lives that the buildings have lived. 

Christenberry is an artist with whom I personally have no relation. He is a white man from the South whereas I am a young, mixed girl from California. And yet, the push and pull of his identity is one that many of us can relate to. In “Dream Building II” the juxtaposition between the figure and his home, as well as the reckoning of the gradual evaporation of such home, is a powerfully emotional piece that anyone can see.

Isabelle is a double major in Art History and History with an interest in Museum Studies at George Washington University. She's from California and loves the West Coast but is excited about the plethora of museums on the East Coast. She enjoys playing soccer and organizing anything that can be.