From the early 1930s up to the late 1950s, the Asheville Artists Guild, a local nonprofit, played a pivotal role in promoting area artists and bringing national exhibits to the city. In 1948, the organization was also responsible for creating the Asheville Art Museum.
A year before the museum’s formation, guild President Ralph Hollars outlined the organization’s future goals in a written statement published in the group’s winter exhibit program. In it, Hollars wrote:
“Making Asheville a nationally-known art center is a primary and necessary project of the Asheville Artists’ guild, which will benefit our city through greater national recognition, more visitors to this scenic wonderland and mountain vacationland, and attract well-known artists to this area to paint the natural beauty that we live in.”
The following year, in October 1948, the guild leased a small stone structure from the Grove Park Commission at the corner of Charlotte Street and Celia Place. According to the Oct. 31 Sunday edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times, the vacant site (“formerly used as an office by the E.W. Grove interests”), was being transformed into “a permanent art center and museum.”
Within two months, renovations for the new Asheville Art Museum were nearly complete. The first exhibit was scheduled for Dec. 26. “Hollars, in announcing the opening, said that the museum represents the fulfillment of a dream which members of the guild have been working on for several years,” The Asheville Citizen wrote on Dec. 22, 1948.
“We think we have made a wonderful start,” Hollars told the paper. “And we are proud of our building but, frankly, it is small. The important fact is that this is a good solid beginning in something that Asheville needs badly and we are confident the public will appreciate[.]”
The Asheville Art Museum’s opening show featured paintings by artists F. Ballard Williams, Albert T. Reid, Wilford S. Conrow and Nils Hogner.
“The work of Williams especially is expected to attract wide attention during the time that the show is open here,” The Asheville Citizen wrote on Dec. 25, a day before the exhibit’s launch. “He is regarded as one of the foremost landscape artists in the country.”
According to the paper’s Dec. 27 recap, several hundred people, including Asheville Mayor Clarence E. Morgan, attended the grand opening. Coverage of the event continued into the new year.
“The achievement of this museum as a reality is the result of hard work by a small group of members of the Asheville Artists Guild,” wrote columnist C.R. Sumner in the Jan. 2, 1949, Sunday edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times. “The fact that that building, although small, has been placed in first class condition and that plans are being made to have it in continuous operation, is in itself a magnificent achievement that should prove to be a source of satisfaction to all who were connected with the venture.”
Today, the Asheville Art Museum is located on Pack Square, inside the 1926 Italian palazzo-style landmark that once housed Pack Library. Meanwhile, the museum’s original site now houses the office of The Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County. As it did 71 years ago, the Asheville Art Museum will celebrate its latest opening, this time on Thursday, Nov. 14, following a three-year renovation project.
Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents.