Coffee in the Coe: art discussions twice a month.

Clarissa Starnes, the organizer of the twice-monthly Coffee in the Coe, says that her inspiration was the European coffee houses of the early 1900’s where people sat for hours discussing a broad range of ideas, including art. She thought, “When do people now get together to discuss art? And how can HMA facilitate doing this in a safe no-right-or-wrong environment?” Coffee in the Coe is structured as an answer to those questions.

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Hickory Museum of Art Executive Director Announces Retirement

Hickory, NCLisë Swensson, who helped attract artists and exhibits from around the world to Hickory Museum of Art (HMA) and expanded its reach in the local community during more than 12 years as executive director, announced recently that she will retire.

Swensson, 65, who became HMA executive director in 2003, plans to leave her job in March 2017, giving the Museum’s board six months to search for a replacement.  Once her successor has been identified and employed by the Museum, she looks forward to continuing work in areas of art education, community arts, exhibitions and arts fundraising. Swensson is also eager to try her hand at art sales.

While she is sad to be leaving her work at HMA, Swensson said she is proud of the Museum’s accomplishments during her time as executive director.

“I continued the vision of (museum founder) Paul Whitener; I’m lucky to be a part of that,” she said. “I love working on projects with creative, passionate people, especially when a variety of cultural expressions are shared.”

HMA Board President Alan Jackson said Swensson has brought a high level of creativity, professionalism and enthusiasm to Hickory Museum of Art, which would not be the organization it is today if not for her energy and passion.

“Her efforts have made the Museum a true destination for local residents, as well as visitors from around the nation and the world,” Jackson said. “The quality and variety of exhibitions, educational activities and community events we have all enjoyed have been the result of a vision for the Museum that Lisë has created and shared since she first joined us.”

Kathryn Greathouse, executive director of the United Arts Council of Catawba County, said Swensson has made a tremendous contribution to HMA and the arts community in the Catawba Valley.

“None of us will forget what she has done for the Hickory Museum of Art and, indeed, the entire community here,” Greathouse said. “She has opened up HMA to new audiences and has initiated new programs that have been highly successful.  HMA has taken giant leaps forward under her leadership.”

Under Swensson’s guidance, the Museum drew nationally and internationally known artists and works, such as Israeli sculptor Orna Ben Ami’s exhibit, “The Softness of Iron,” and “Unexpected Beauty,” a collection of photos by Steve McCurry, who took the famous “Afghan Girl” photo that appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1984. HMA partnered with the Catawba Valley Camera Club on the McCurry exhibit, which closed this past May.

In 2005, the Museum displayed “AFTERMATH,” an exhibition by New York photographer Joel Meyerowitz documenting the 9/11 terror attacks. The exhibit’s journey to Hickory began with a simple car trip that Swensson took. While driving to work the month after September 11, 2001, Swensson heard part of a radio interview with the nationally recognized Meyerowitz discussing his project documenting the monumental clean-up process at Ground Zero. 

“I just sat in my car and cried because this artist’s words moved me so much,” Swensson recalled.  “I wrote him an email and, months later, his assistant called me and said, ‘we’re impressed with what you wrote and, if we can work something out, we’re interested.’”

Former HMA board member and past president Mary Elizabeth Geitner said Swensson was key to attracting such strong exhibits.

“She has brought in wonderful exhibits, and it takes an executive director to make exhibits happen,” Geitner shared. “She has to knock on doors and get funding. Lisë hasn’t just holed herself up in the Museum; she has gone into the community.”

Swensson said she is also proud of the Museum’s efforts to reach into the community with programs such as Art for All, launched in 2004 soon after she arrived, that continues to involve low-income and at-risk children in art- making projects.

“The Hickory Museum of Art needs to be an integral part of this region and beyond,” she explained. “HMA is sometimes described as a ‘jewel on top of a crown.’ Instead of being ‘worn’ for special occasions, the Museum needs to be part of the day-to-day experiences of those representing all socio economic backgrounds and interests.”

HMA board member Trish Johnson said Swensson worked hard to connect the Museum with all parts of the community.

“Lisë tried to deliberately be inclusive of the entire community,” Johnson said. “She wanted the Museum to be reflective of the community, to involve the under-involved. She wanted everyone to feel the Museum was theirs.”

Swensson promoted diversity not just among people, but in art as well, Johnson said. In 2014, the Museum joined with the Hickory Pubic Library and the Hickory Community Theater to present a celebration of the play “Crowns,” about church hats worn by African American women. As part of the celebration, the Museum hosted a display of hats from members of the community.

“She’s always looking for avenues to make sure all people are included, from folk art to all kinds of art, not just paintings and drawings,” Johnson added. “She doesn’t miss the furniture aspect of it or the fabric aspect of it. She uses all media.”

Looking to the future, Swensson said the Museum has developed a partnership with the Downtown Newton Development Association and the City of Newton to sponsor the Foothills Folk Art Festival that will be held in historic downtown Newton on Saturday, October 1. This event is based on folk art festivals that HMA has held in Hickory and in Sherrills Ford since 2005.

Later this year, the Museum will feature contributions of women in the visual arts, including a partnership with Hickory Printing Solutions, which will produce a catalog and calendar for the exhibition “Woman Made: Women Artists from the Hickory Museum of Art Collection,” December 17, 2016 – April 23, 2017. The exhibition is being guest curated by Karin Borei. Additional community groups are encouraged to contact HMA to play a part in this multi-faceted celebration of women artists.

Swensson began as executive director in December 2003, when she and her husband, artist Dan Smith, moved to Hickory. Before that, she was director of the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, Va., from 1995 to 2003. She also has been chief art curator at the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia, S.C., director of the Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County in Camden, S.C., and a high school teacher and coach.

Anyone interested in being considered for HMA’s executive director position will find application instructions at http://hickoryart.org/employment/ or by emailing execdirsearch@hotmail.com.

Hickory Museum of Art is located on the SALT Block, 243 3rd Avenue NE, Hickory. Admission is free. For more information about Museum exhibitions, art classes, field trips, and events, visit www.HickoryArt.org or call 828-327-8576.

New acqusitions so far in 2016

A first look at ten of the works added to HMA's collection so far in 2016, whether through purchase or (mostly)generous gifts for which the Museum is grateful to its donors. The works were accepted by HMA's Acquisitions Committee at its monthly meetings. All were chosen with a view towards how best to exhibit each one in the future.

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COLLECTING STARKWEATHER: THEN & NOW

Paul Whitener, HMA's founder and first director, collected nine William Edward Bloomfield Starkweather paintings while director, most of them gifts from the artist to the Museum. In 2015 HMA was given eight more, gifts from collector and Starkweather expert Peter Falotico. This exhibition will run through August 14, 2016, and features a selection of new and old acquisitions, as well as correspondence from Starkweather to Paul Whitener. 

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Visual Jazz: Digital Imagery by James Biggers opens Jan. 16

Inspired by the music of jazz giants Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, James Biggers depicts visual rhythm through colors, shapes and forms. A native of Gastonia, N.C., Biggers describes his most recent body of work – which includes digitally manipulated photographs – as an extension of the Harlem Renaissance Era.  He is the nephew of artist John Biggers, an African-American muralist who came to prominence after the Harlem Renaissance and toward the end of World War II.

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HMA's Guild presented the 41st Annual Angels of the Arts Holiday Brunch

The Hickory Museum of Art Guild presented its 41st Annual Angels of the Arts Holiday Brunch 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Dec. 5 at Lake Hickory Country Club, Hickory. The fundraising event included a holiday brunch, and silent and live auctions, including the chance to win a Gourmet Experience in Napa Valley and Rome for Art Lovers trip. All proceeds will benefit Hickory Museum of Art educational programs and exhibitions.

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