Asheville Archives: The Asheville Art Museum launches, 1948

STILL STANDING: The former Grove Park office became the original location of the Asheville Art Museum in 1948. Today, The Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County operates out of the building. Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville

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.”

SERVING THE ARTS: This 1943 photo features Asheville Artists Guild President Ralph Hollars and his wife, Adelaide Brown Hollars. In 1948, Ralph Hollars became Asheville Art Museum’s first president. Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville

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.


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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6 thoughts on “Asheville Archives: The Asheville Art Museum launches, 1948

  1. Terry Taylor

    Nice article, Thomas. Do you know the 3 other sites where AAM was located? Just checking.

    • Thomas Calder

      Thanks Terry. Yes, I learned of the three locations recently: the 11th floor of the then Northwestern Bank (today’s Hotel Arras, for those following at home), 152 Pearson Drive and the Civic Center basement. If you’ve got pictures of the museum in any of the three locations, you know who to send them to. Thanks again!

  2. Curious

    Are any of the artists in the original show of the “first” Asheville Art Museum represented in the current collection of the museum? Very nice article, and nicely timed for the opening of the “new” AAM.

    • Thomas Calder

      Thanks for the comment and question. I reached out to the Asheville Art Museum. It recently acquired work by Clarence Sumner, a founding member of the museum. The work is not yet on display. The museum does not have original works by the four artists featured in its 1948 opening.

      • Laura Schuyler

        I reached out to them. I bought a house and the prior owners were 80. They left a painting by Hollars.
        I was either going to return to family or donate to the museum. I sent them photos of front and back. They said they had works in storage but not at the museum…?

  3. Laura Schuyler

    I have one of RJ Hollars paintings, Light Snow. I have just written to the museum. I have often wondered if I should keep it or send it to family. It was left behind in the home we purchased. Your article gave it even more life. I will await response from Asheville Art, not sure to keep, sell, give…donate?

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