'Museum without walls' on the move

Article Published: Aug. 12, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Museum without walls' on the move

Volunteer and BRAHM pusher Sue Glenn is helping put together a preview show for the museum, the closest sampler you'll get until the museum opens in fall of 2011. It happens at the Art Cellar in Banner Elk.

Photo by Lauren K. Ohnesorge

A decade of fund raising, planning and dreaming, and it comes down to this: The Blowing Rock Art and History Museum (BRAHM) isn't just a speck in the horizon, it's a reality.

The "museum without walls" is getting its walls, several of them, and is on track to open in fall of 2011.

This week marks a preview at the Art Cellar Gallery (920 Shawneehaw Ave.) in Banner Elk: The closest you'll get to the actual museum, and volunteers kept busy Monday prepping for the big opening.

"We wanted to give just a little bit of a sampler of the kinds of works we'll be offering in the museum," volunteer Sue Glenn said, lifting an Elliott Daingerfield landscape to its prominent place on the wall.

And, like the BRAHM itself, it's not just about the art, it's about historic context.

"We couldn't tell about the history of this beautiful place without expressing it in art, and we couldn't tell about the art without giving historic context," she said.

The pieces, a mesh of works from area collectors' private collections and what's already counted in the museum's stock, tell the story of the community.

It's not a story that's just told in the paintings, it's told through the collections themselves, what figures in the High Country connected with, whether the subjects were mountains or cityscapes.

Through carefully researched displays, volunteers hope to retell the story of the collectors, collectors like the Moses Cone sisters, the subject of a BRAHM display in 2003.

"They were some of the most fabulous art collectors in the world," Glenn said. "They had more Matisses than anybody. They collected Picasso in his early time in Paris."

"They" were Claribel (1864-1929) and Etta (1870-1949) Cone, and, for much of their extravagant lives, they lived in Baltimore. The sisters of textile mogul Moses Cone (think Moses Cone's Flat Top Manor), they were acquainted with the likes of Gertrude Stein.

Paintings, including works of Renoir and Picasso, were passed through their family and used to be displayed at Flat Top Manor. While many pieces from their collection are at the Baltimore Museum of Art, their legacy will live on at BRAHM.

The Penland School also influenced local collections. A glass collection of Penland artists' work is part of the BRAHM display, as are pieces that highlight the history of regional artist colony "Artists Alley."

"Minerva Goldsmith started to accumulate property west of Blowing Rock, and she established a small artists' colony that became known as Artists Alley," Glenn explained.

The alley, still in operation today, hosts art shows and was instrumental in spearheading Blowing Rock's Art in the Park. It's an important chapter in the history of art in western North Carolina, and museum officials plan to highlight the historic context though careful displays. Through independent research, new information is constantly being discovered, making the museum a truly evolving encyclopedia.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg, it really is," Glenn said. "What we're discovering every time we just learn a new tidbit and make a new connection is going to help tell the story even better."

Much of the research is devoted to BRAHM's signature artist, Elliott Daingerfield.

His pieces take up an entire wall of the display and dominate BRAHM's collection. After all, it was the donation of a Daingerfield collection that sparked the search for a museum.

"Daingerfield was very well connected with some of the very prominent artists and leaders of the art world," Glenn said.

In 1907, he even served on the jury for the National Academy of Design.

"That was kind of a pivotal moment when art was changing in America, and the jury selection from that particular show encouraged a whole group of artists to go out on their own and begin exhibiting separately from that National Academy, which was the legitimate art expert at the time," Glenn said.

That's when the shift from American Impressionism to Urban Realism happened, right around the turn of the century.

Daingerfield, who taught in Philadelphia but had three houses in Blowing Rock (including Edgemont Cottage), brought his students to the High Country to focus on their brushwork, helping transform the art community and local art collections into what they are today.

"And we've got examples of some of that work here," Glenn said.

For Glenn (who co-wrote a book on another BRAHM artist, Philip Moose, with Francie Troy), this show represents more than an educational way to spend an afternoon. It's about the BRAHM "finally" becoming a reality.

"I'm excited about the whole thing coming together," she said.

After all, for Glenn (whose day job is in real estate), art is more than a day trip, it's a lifetime of memories.

"My mother was an artist and an art teacher, so she was dragging us to museums as soon as I could walk," she said. "It's been interesting to me that some people haven't had that wonderful experience, so I'm really thrilled that Blowing Rock is bringing the opportunity for a comfortable museum experience in our own back yard."

All that's about to change. Each day, the museum looks more and more like the community fixture officials hope it will become.

"We realized people on this side of Grandfather weren't as acquainted," Glenn said, "so we thought it would be fun to bring a little bit of the museum over here [to Avery County]."

After all, as museum officials have been saying from the beginning, despite its name, BRAHM is not just about Blowing Rock. It is about the High Country as a whole.

"And this is a sampler of the kinds of things and some of the stories we're going to be able to tell," Glenn said.

"And we're right on track with construction," BRAHM spokeswoman Sunny Townes said.
BRAHM is currently planning its topping-out ceremony, where the rafter will be raised, Sept. 12, more than a year after ground was broken in June 2009.

Next up for the BRAHM?

An exhibition at Blowing Rock Frameworks and Gallery, presented by board of trustees member Tim Miller, entitled "Art in the Parkway: A love story," is to be presented in conjunction with the Blue Ridge Parkway's 75th anniversary Sept. 5-18.

The BRAHM preview collection will on display through Aug. 18. A reception will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday. It happens at the Art Cellar in Banner Elk. For preview photos, check out the album on mountaintimes.com.

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