Brown Payne ’24: Discoveries in Art History

Brown Payne

Brown Payne ’24 has used his time at Davidson to dive headfirst into the world of art. He’s helped curate shows at the Van Every/Smith Galleries, spent a semester studying art history in Vienna and, most recently, embarked on a research journey to understand the complex legacy of mid-century American artists at Black Mountain College in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

Nashville born and raised, Payne grew up surrounded by art and artists. He and his older brother, now a studio art major at Rhodes College, took art classes throughout high school and practiced drawing and painting in their free time. When Payne began taking art classes at Davidson, he found himself pulled in a new direction, captivated by what he could learn outside of the studio. 

“Sophomore year, I took a class on post-modern art with John Corso-Esquivel that really launched me into that area,” Payne said. “He’s been a great advisor to me, and he’s really helped me to focus and think about what I might want to do with art in the future.”

At his job with the Van Every/Smith Galleries, where he works alongside Director and Curator Lia Newman, Payne learned to work with other artists to curate his own shows. Last spring, he and two other students, Claire Begalla ’24 and Isabel Smith ’24, unveiled Exposure: Uncovering the Private Space, a collection of black and white photographs that each depict intimate scenes of bodies existing in private. When he’s not working on a show or talking with visitors, he’s also one of the gallery’s event photographers. 

Last summer, Payne received a Dean Rusk Travel Grant to study Arabic in Jordan alongside four other Davidson students. Immediately after, he headed to Vienna, where he spent the next semester studying art history and museum curation. With easy access to some of the world’s most renowned art museums, he became fascinated by the behind-the-scenes work of collecting and displaying art. 

“I’m still figuring out what I want to do after Davidson, but I am interested in museum curation or education,” he said. “The way things are changing, I think museums could look really different in the future. I’m interested in how they’ll adapt to make art more accessible, which can include simple changes like making sure collections are available online.” 

Most recently, Payne followed his interest in postmodern art to a place much closer to home. He and Adam Saacke ’24 received an Artistic Independent Research (AIR) grant and spent months unraveling the rich history of art at Black Mountain College, a liberal arts school in the mountains of North Carolina that opened in 1933 and shut down in 1957. Despite its brief lifespan, the college attracted rising stars in the art world, including many German artists fleeing Europe during the rise of Hitler. Clashing ideas and backgrounds quickly transformed the college into a hub for avant-garde art, music and poetry.

“We came to realize it was this nexus of mid-century American art and artists,” Payne said. “The relationships between these different artists really reflect the different schools of thought emerging at the time.”

As his senior year begins, Payne takes on a new role as a Davidson Arts and Creative Engagement (DACE) Fellow, a role he hopes will allow him to share his passion with students outside of the art world and provide spaces where anyone can practice being creative. 

“I think it’s easy for students outside of the arts to remove themselves from art completely because they feel like they’re not creative enough, but anyone can be creative,” he said. “Anyone can make art.”


  • September 11, 2023