North Carolina artist Shirley Pruden's The Aerialist was the first work by a woman artist purchased by the Hickory Museum of Art, eight years after the Museum's opening. (Ella Richard's The Violinist was acquired two years earlier as a gift.)
Before HMA bought it, the painting had been accepted by a jury for the prestigious Allied Artists Exhibition in New York City in 1952, and it also won first prize in the Rockingham NC Art Festival that same year. A February 16, 1953 article in The Hickory Daily Record on the topic of HMA’s 1952 acquisitions says of the painting that “It is an excellent work which shows superb knowledge of anatomy as applied to the human figure and is unusually brilliant in color.”
This was not the first time that a painting of Pruden’s had been selected for the Allied Artists Exhibition. A November 22-28, 1950 Leaksville, NC news article reported that “A painting, Thoughtful Moments, by Miss Shirley Pruden of Reidsville, has been hung in the 37th annual Allied Artists of America show in New York's National Academy Galleries. The painting is of a young woman sitting pensively on the floor. Mrs. Lucille S. Richardson of Reidsville was the model.” The same publication reported in its May 26-June 1, 1952 issue that “Miss Shirley Pruden of Reidsville has been awarded the John J. Milton Award by the Painters and Sculptors Society of New Jersey. The award was for her composition in oils, Day Off, entered in an art show staged by the society in Jersey City. “
Pruden grew up in Greensboro, NC and attended UNC-Greensboro. In 1950, “Former Greensburgher Miss Shirley Pruden, promising portrait painter” was awarded a scholarship to study with [portrait painter] Jerry Farnsworth in Sarasota, FL., returning from there to North Carolina to marry and settle. The Statesville, NC newspaper reported on April 14, 1958 that, “The Arts and Science Museum's third Spring Art Festival opened Sunday afternoon to museum members and out of town guests. [One of the exhibiting artists was] Mrs. Shirley Pruden Graham of Mooresville. [She] is as vivacious as her handsome paintings.”
The Aerialist was part of the exhibit Woman Made that showcased works by women artists in the Museum's permanent collection between December 17, 2016 through April 23, 2017.
This post is # 25 of the 75 stories to celebrate HMA's 75 years.
Post by Karin Borei, HMA Project Coordinator, writer and editor as needed, and HMA blogger since our blog's inception in March 2015.