Coffee in the Coe: art discussions twice a month.

Front page article above the fold in the June 24, 2017  Hickory Daily Record .

Front page article above the fold in the June 24, 2017 Hickory Daily Record.

Twice a month since January 2017, Clarissa Starnes organizes one of the newest offerings by HMA, Coffee in the Coe, which is named for the gallery in which the group meets most often. Clarissa is the Associate Director of HMA and (says BettyGrace O’Hearn) “a homegrown girl from Hickory with an endless bundle of energy and ideas”, of which this program is just one of many responsibilities on her already full plate. 

Clarissa says that the inspiration for the sessions 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.

Anyone who is interested is welcome to attend, and the only requirement is an interest in art.  Says BettyGrace, member of the HMA Guild and one of the Museum’s volunteers, “We fellowship around coffee and snacks at a 10:30 AM start time that accommodates those who are not early risers.  Each meeting is so pleasant and you learn something about the wonderful art that is exhibited as well as ancillary areas of interest.” She reminisces below about some of the discussions so far. (Parentheses throughout are editorial additions.)

Each meeting begins with a brief presentation, by Clarissa or someone else, to spark a free-ranging conversation. The very first Coffee happened during the Woman Made: Women Artists from the Hickory Museum of Art Collection exhibit that was the brain child of HMA Staff member Karin Borei. Seated at a round table surrounded by art, everyone felt comfortable to say what they loved about the works.  It was a free exchange of ideas and thoughts that made the exhibition only richer. (In the picture, that's BettyGrace's back in the gray-on-gray outfit.)

One of the most fascinating conversations was ignited by the HMA exhibit of Paul Lancaster’s creativity several months ago. This artist had us all in amazement of his work. Born into poverty in Tennessee, he was self-guided with vision only a genius would have.  His work is so intricate, it was hard to fathom that he started each painting in the upper left hand corner of the work and then just “moved across” the canvas. (HMA was fortunate enough to subsequently add several pieces of Lancaster’s to its permanent collection. See one of those works here.)

One session we all loved was going to HMA’s vault (storage space).  That was so exciting, especially since most of us had never been to a museum vault before.  Several pieces of the permanent collection were brought out for us to view, and then we walked through the multiple rooms of stored art.  It was a true visit to a treasure chest.

The Winter Garden Floral Art Reception that dove tailed with the women artists showing was also a great time for those of us who attend Coffee in the Coe. Talented floral designers from the Raleigh-Durham area created flower masterpieces inspired by a selection of the exhibited HMA works.  We were amazed at their artistry, and it was a validation that art speaks to many genres. (The example here is with Maud Gatewood's Near Daniel's Tomb.)

Hickory Sticks by Jonathan Brilliant that is currently on display in the Coe Gallery (until September 9) was being built during one of our meetings.  We were able to talk to this talented artist from Raleigh and watch the installation take shape before our eyes.  If you have not seen this show, visit the museum and bring your children and grandchildren.  In this instance, wood coffee stir sticks and other to-go coffee implements are the medium for creations that fill the Coe!

At our most recent Coffee in the Coe we were briefed on the upcoming exhibition Endangered: Joel Sartore Retrospective that will open on September 17th, and we ended up discussing the art of Georgia O’Keefe. We also learned how the museum is working on its inventory of art related books in their library.  The books in that room are to die for! (In the picture on the left, Barry Huffman is enthusing about collecting folk art; while in the one below, the Brian Lackey show surrounds the discussion.)

Come out and join us for Coffee in the Coe.  We meet every other Thursday at 10:30 am and conclude by noon.   Everyone is invited, whether you think you know anything about art or not! We will keep meeting throughout the summer too. And yes, there is of course coffee!

For more information on what's next, contact Clarissa Starnes at

Post by Karin Borei, HMA Project Coordinator, writer and editor as needed, and HMA blogger since March 2015.