The Hickory Museum of Art opened in 1944, in a then relatively small (about 15,000 inhabitants) and relatively isolated Western North Carolina town caught up in both World War II and a major polio epidemic. The Museum celebrated the 70th anniversary of that ambitiously visionary accomplishment with a series of exhibitions and programs throughout 2014, focusing on the local community’s memories and artifacts along with selections from the Museum’s collection of almost 2,000 pieces of American art.
How did this founding of an art museum happen specifically in Hickory? It took one man with a single-minded goal and a group of like-minded volunteers with a passion to make that goal happen. The painter and long-time local resident Paul Whitener was that man; and in September 1943 he said that his goal was that “I’m going to make Hickory an art center” which he then did in collaboration with a group of other Hickory community leaders. These men and women wanted to ensure that their town provided the same cultural resources that towns much larger than Hickory offered. That is, they wanted to increase the quality of life and educational opportunities for citizens of their town. The result was the Hickory Museum of Art.
The culminating exhibition of the 70th anniversary year was the multi-part 1944: A War, The People, A New Museum. In putting this celebration together, we (the Museum staff) saw it as an opportunity to combine the Museum’s current strategic goal of increased community engagement with the celebration of the birth of this important cultural organization. And indeed we found a great many ways to connect and partner with local businesses, organizations and individuals as we shared a variety of common histories through the visual arts and artists represented in our collection and those whose art was featured in the first year of HMA’s exhibitions.
The over-arching goal of HMA’s year of celebrating the 70th anniversary year was to make the surrounding community more aware and proud of the fact that the Hickory Museum of Art, the second oldest art museum in North Carolina, is still an energetic and innovative part of the community it serves. This we continue to strive to do into the present.
Post by Karin Borei, HMA Project Coordinator, writer and editor as needed, and HMA blogger since our blog's inception in March 2015.