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Avery Arts Council finds a treasure

Article Published: Sep. 23, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Avery Arts Council finds a treasure

The Avery Arts Council recently discovered it was in possession of an original painting by the late Boone folk artist, "wiili."

Sometimes a treasure is discovered in Grandma's attic or unearthed with the aid of old maps, and sometimes it is just hanging in plain sight.

When the Avery Arts Council relocated from Banner Elk to Linville recently, an assortment of paintings, prints and photos that had graced the old place came along in the move.

"Patrons have donated artwork to us over the years," board president Brian Powers said. "They are usually sold at our annual fundraiser, but from time to time they don't sell and we get to enjoy them for a while. There were several pieces hanging in the old building; they really enhanced the artistic atmosphere. We even had a nice collection of artwork in the bathroom. Little did we know that one of the bathroom paintings was such a rare find."

A couple of sharp-eyed friends noticed the brightly colored little acrylic as it awaited hanging in the new Linville space. Artist Michel Oliver was pretty sure that the swirly designs and bright colors must be a "wiili."

Her observation was seconded by Abigail Sheets, whose 87 Ruffin Street Gallery features primitive and folk art. Staff heeded their recommendations to call in Cherry Johnson, executive director of the Watauga Arts Council. Johnson had been personally acquainted with William H. Armstrong, aka wiili, and had exhibited his work at the Jones House Gallery prior to his death in 2003. It didn't take long for her to confirm the authenticity of the piece.

Wiili was an "outsider artist," a term used to describe those whose work is not considered part of the traditional art scene. A fixture of the Boone streetscape for a couple of decades, wiili became known for expressive and colorful paintings, which frequently incorporated images of birds, butterflies and fairies.

A self-taught artist, his struggles with bipolar disorder did not prevent him from creating a joyous and lively body of work, which attracted many fans. By the time he died at age 47, wiili had a devoted following, with paintings hanging in area galleries and private collections.

Avery Arts Council board members do not know who gave this wiili to the council.

"We have always thought it a happy painting," council director LouAnn Morehouse said. "It is a thrill to know that many people continue to admire wiili's work. We welcome inquiries from collectors and look forward to seeing this newly discovered painting reunited with other examples of wiili's art."

To view the painting, visit the Avery Arts Council's gallery in Linville at 77 Ruffin St., behind the Old Hampton Store. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.

For more information, contact the Avery County Arts Council at (828) 733-0054 or (

Gallery Times
Gallery Times is a weekly news feature of the Focus section of The Mountain Times, featuring short news items submitted by local galleries.
For more information or to make a submission, contact editor Frank Ruggiero at ( or (828) 264-6397.

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