Feature Articles

November 2011

Blowing Rock Art and History Museum in Blowing Rock, NC, Offers Inaugural Exhibitions

More than 850 guests celebrated the culmination of more than ten years of planning at the Grand Opening of the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum (BRAHM) on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011. Located in the heart of downtown Blowing Rock, NC, at the corner of Chestnut and Main streets, BRAHM will host exhibits, educational programs and classes that promote the visual arts, history and heritage of the mountains of western North Carolina.

On view through Mar. 2012, will be three exhibits including: Elliott Daingerfield: His Art and Life in Blowing Rock, featuring works by the turn-of-the-century American painter Elliott Daingerfield, who spent 46 summers in Blowing Rock; The Blowing Rock: A Natural Draw, highlights western North Carolina’s most famous rock outcropping; and The Historic Hotels of Blowing Rock, explores the grand resorts that emerged as tourism expanded.

The Museum was designed by local architect Steve Price and the Winston-Salem, NC, firm Calloway Johnson Moore and West (CJMW) and built by Boone Construction Company. It includes neutral colors, rustic features and mountain building materials - such as 16-inch Douglas fir timbers bound by iron banding, river stone and cedar siding so that it blends with the environment that surrounds it. The state-of-the-art, 23,000-square-foot facility will both fulfill the Museum’s current needs as well as its long-range goals with its six galleries totaling 4,500 square feet; 1,350-square-foot multi-purpose community meeting room and adjacent conference room; 1,500 square feet of educational space; orientation theatre; gift shop; administrative offices and ample storage space.

The theme of the Grand Opening is “What Drew You Here?” which reflects on the various forces that have been drawing people to the mountains of western North Carolina for hundreds of years, including beauty, recreation, adventure, good health and the temperate mountain climate.

These have remained constant since the mid-1800s, when the tourism industry began to thrive in the region. BRAHM’s three opening exhibits will explore this overarching question.

The main exhibit is devoted to turn-of-the-century American painter Elliott Daingerfield, who spent 46 summers in Blowing Rock. Elliott Daingerfield: His Art and Life in Blowing Rock, which is funded in part by underwriting from the North Carolina Arts Council and the Bonnie and Jamie Schaefer Family Foundation, is a fitting topic for an opening exhibit; the scenery and people of the mountains played a prominent role in the artist’s work and, conversely, he was a great influence on the town. Not only was it a proposed gift of Daingerfield work that inspired the idea for a museum in Blowing Rock, but his work and homes also continue to play a significant role in the town’s identity.

Saint Mary of the Hills Episcopal Church is named after his mural Madonna of the Hills, which he donated to the church and still adorns the altar today. His first home and studio, the quaint Edgewood Cottage, sits across the street from the church, adjacent to the BRAHM grounds. His third and final Blowing Rock home, which he named “Westglow” for the beautiful sunsets that could be viewed from the front porch, was an impressive Greek Revival mansion that indicates the level of professional success that he enjoyed. Today it is the Westglow Resort and Spa, one of the world’s premier destinations for those seeking relaxation and rejuvenation, just as its first owner did when he arrived in town 125 years ago.

Elliott Daingerfield: His Art and Life in North Carolina was curated by Asheville, NC, resident J. Richard Gruber, former Deputy Director of the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, GA, which has a significant collection of Daingerfield work and ephemera, and founding Director of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. While at the Morris, Gruber served as curator for Victorian Visionary: The Art of Elliot Daingerfield and contributed an essay to the exhibit catalog. For the BRAHM exhibit, he selected more than 80 pieces and a plethora of artifacts, supplementing the Museum’s permanent collection with loans from a number of private collectors and museums. The exhibit presents a brief overview of the artist’s childhood in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, and Fayetteville, NC, and his early career in New York City, but its focus is on the time he spent in Blowing Rock.

A second exhibit, The Blowing Rock: A Natural Draw, highlights western North Carolina’s most famous rock outcropping, which gets its name because of the fierce winds that blow up the cliffs. The Blowing Rock is so distinctive that it was among the region’s first “natural” tourist attractions, rewarding those who made the long trip up the unpaved Linville Turnpike and dared to scramble to its edge with a jaw-dropping vista overlooking the Johns’ River Gorge 3,000 feet below. It was so popular that the small village that emerged less than a mile away became known by the same name. More than a hundred years later, the town of Blowing Rock continues to be one of the most-visited destinations in the state of North Carolina, as is the Blowing Rock itself.

The Blowing Rock: A Natural Draw uses vintage postcards, old photographs and memorabilia to explore the history of the rock, including its geological formation, meteorological anomalies, myths and legends and role in the development of tourism in the region. Curated by historian and BRAHM Board of Trustees member Neva J. Specht, along with the Museum’s exhibits committee, the exhibit – located on the main level in Gallery 3 – will be a dynamic, interactive experience. The exhibit was made possible in part by underwriting support from Anne and Alex Bernhardt.

The third opening exhibit, The Historic Hotels of Blowing Rock, explores the grand resorts that emerged as tourism expanded. As the limited occupancy of the early boarding houses quickly proved insufficient, a number of hotels were established around the turn of the century, including the Watauga Inn (1888), the Blowing Rock Hotel (1889), the Green Park Hotel (1891) and the Mayview Manor (1922). While the hotels were built in response to the growing number of visitors, the owners and their employees worked to make them destinations in and of themselves, treating guests to beautifully appointed interiors, fine dining, elegant entertainment and a wide selection of activities to occupy their time in the mountains.

The exhibit uses furniture from the hotels, photos and memorabilia to visually tell the story of these “Grand Dames,” as the Green Park Hotel was once called. Text panels will explore the identities and motivations of the financiers, owners, employees and patrons of the resorts; the impact they made on the community; the reasons behind their gradual decline and the efforts to preserve the historic structures.

For further information check our NC Institutional Gallery listings, call the Museum at 828/295-9099 or visit (www.blowingrockmuseum.org).

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