Harold Crowell (born 1952)

One of HMA's other Crowell paintings, The Gourd Lady), is of life-long Conover resident Margaret Sparkman. She had adopted this persona as her artist identity, in that creativity with gourds was her medium; and that landed her a spot on the Jay Leno show in 2003.

The son of a minister, Crowell has been developmentally disabled from birth. As a child,  (more)

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Romare Bearden (1911-1988)

Early on, Charlotte-born and Harlem-raised Bearden debated whether to be an artist, a musician, or a professional baseball player. As a painter, he used ideas from math and music, especially jazz, in his art, along with aspects of his many other influences. As a result, (more)

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Juie Rattley III

Between October 2013 and January 2014, HMA exhibited a selection of paintings by the North Carolina artist Juie Rattley III in a show called Chaos and Control. At that time, Rattley spoke about how he experiences his creativity. (more)

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Sharif Bey (born mid-1970's)

In the Spring of 2007, ceramic sculptor Sharif Bey's ornamental yet functional pots and and his necklaces of massive ceremonial beads were exhibited at HMA in a one-person show, amidst some mild controversy. He said of his works that "This series of work combines my interest in African, Indian, Pre-Columbian, Native American, and Modernist sculpture while still applying the rigid functional criteria I acquired as a potter.” (more)

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Minnie Reinhardt (1898-1986)

Minnie Reinhardt was often referred to as "the Grandma Moses of Catawba County." She used a primitive style to to paint from recollections of her childhood. She said about wanting to paint that "I was just real interested in it. If you're not, you don't want to mess with it. You can't do nothing without being interested and wanting to do it more than anything else -- that's the main thing."  (more)

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The Museum's galleries

The Hickory Museum of Art shares space with other Hickory cultural organizations in the SALT Block, the extensively renovated former Claremont High School building. The Museum occupies three floors with nine galleries. Many of the galleries are named for HMA supporters.

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Steve Brooks (born 1962)

"Trees are vital to life, mythic. Their symbolism is woven into our subconscious mind, informing us on a basic level.  The tree image is in our dreams and stories.  The image and meaning is as complex and important to us as we believe we are to the world." (Artist's Statement.)

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James H. BURRUS (1894-1955)

"The importance of art in awakening a sense of the appreciation of beauty cannot be measured. Even meager training in Art opens the eyes. Nothing is ever quite the same once you have learned enough about art to see the color variations in the trees, or the clouds – why,” he said, smiling broadly, “suddenly you realize there’s more beauty in one day than you could exhaust in a century.“

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JOËL URRUTY (born 1968)

Between September 19, 2015 and February 28, 2016, HMA welcomes back Hickory artist Joël Urruty in an exhibition that includes gilded sculptures and wall hangings of woven wood strips. Urruty won Best of Show in the Museum’s 2013 Road Trip: A Juried Exhibition, in conjunction with HMA's First AutoLawn Party in 2013.

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Wink Gaines

"I have always found peace and solace in the outdoors and in nature. Wildlife photography combines many skill sets including ruggedness, patience, knowledge of the subject, knowledge of your camera, composition and noting the way light does its magic within your preconceived image." A selection of Hickory native Gaines' photographs will be on display at HMA between September 26, 2015 and January 10, 2016.

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Wiili Armstrong (1956-2003)

"He was on medication, but art was a significant part of his therapy also." He loved the bipolar highs which was when he did much of his painting. In his own words, he was a “junk assembler, a garbage collector … a waking sleeper. A regular-kind-of-guy who just happens to know for certain he is an artist.”

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History of the Hickory Museum of Art

The Hickory Museum of Art was the fulfillment of the vision and ambition of Paul Whitener, Hickory resident, Duke University journalism student and football player, and accomplished painter of portraits and the North Carolina mountains.

In the 1940’s, Hickory was a leading cultural center for a city of its size, and Paul felt that the city needed a visual arts center. A group of “conscientious citizens,” in Pauls’ own words, assembled in September of 1943 to discuss the possibility of organizing an art association in Hickory. By November of that year, though it did not yet have either a collection or a physical location, the Hickory Museum of Art Association held its first exhibition in a vacant office building (the Bradshaw Building) in downtown Hickory. In February of 1944, still without either a building or a collection, a celebratory ceremony was held in the ballroom of the Old Hickory Hotel where the Museum was publicly recognized and chartered by North Carolina Governor Clyde Hoey. And that was the beginnings of the second oldest art museum in North Carolina (after Charlotte’s 1936 Mint Museum).

Paul and his artistic contacts in New York City, chief among them the painters Wilford S. Conrow and Henry Hobart Nichols, concentrated on American art which at the time was not favored by collectors and thus was affordable. This was also consistent with Paul’s vision which, in his own words, was to first and foremost "embrace all the arts and crafts of the upper Piedmont region of North Carolina." 

Within a year, the Museum had bought a dozen paintings and had outgrown the Bradshaw Building and moved into the white clapboard W.W.Bryan house on Third Avenue. This was the Museum’s home for the next 14 years. It served that function well for the most part, except perhaps the time when the floor of the main gallery (which, according to Pauls' niece Julie Cline "would probably hold 50 people packed in like sardines") caved during a crowded reception. As Paul's wife Mickey reminisced in 1984, "Suddenly, the floor collapsed and we were standing two feet lower. ... The whole floor was leaning to one side like an earthquake had hit the house. It was something to see." Fortunately no-one was hurt.

Mickey late 1940's.

Mickey late 1940's.

Mickey was steadfast supporter of her husband’s interest in the arts, and held paid employment to supplement their income so that he could focus on painting. Mickey also worked tirelessly with Paul to get the museum up and running, often traveling with him on museum business. When he developed a brain tumor in the mid-1950’s, she spent two years nursing him while his father managed the Museum. After Paul’s death, Mickey agreed to be acting director until a new director could be found; but she remained as director for 38  active years.

In 1960 HMA moved into its third home, the former office building of Shuford Mills on the corner of 3rd Street and 1st Avenue NW. “I thought it was heaven when I moved into that third location” remembered Mickey in 1994. “It was warm in the winter, cool in the summer and gorgeous year ‘round.” Here HMA was able to further develop its programs, including art classes which had already been initiated modestly before the move. The Museum was also able to expand the annual School Art Show, an early project of Paul’s. “Paul thought that the show would develop the children’s interest in art early on, so that they would continue to have an appreciation of the arts as adults. … [The show also] promotes parental awareness of the Museum because if their child has a picture in the show, the parents, the grandparents, sometimes even the great-grandparents are all coming to see it.”

By the early 1980’s, the Museum again was in need of still-larger quarters, and to that end raised $650,000 towards building its own free-standing space. At that same time, however, the Hickory School Board announced that it intended to demolish the former Claremont High School building (by then re-named Hickory High School). Instead, Buck Shuford led a group of other civic-minded Hickory men and women to turn the building into the arts center it is today by spearheading a drive to raise 2.6 million dollars towards its renovation.

The Hickory Museum of Art continues its mission to inspire, educate, and transform our community and region through the visual arts. The focus of our collection continues to be American art.  HMA aims to be cultural center, educational resource, tourist destination, and economic development tool for the Catawba County region and the state of North Carolina.  

HMA is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, which means that it operates according to the highest established museum standards. HMA is one of only a small percentage of all American museums so distinguished.

More blog stories about HMA's beginnings:
       Paul and Mickey Whitener
      The Museum's first painting
      The Museum celebrates its 70th anniversary

Post by Karin Borei, HMA Project Coordinator, writer and editor as needed, and HMA blogger since our blog's inception in March 2015.