Folk art sinks roots at Hickory museum

Works from dozens of artists, all self-taught, go on long-term display this weekend in Hickory in one of the largest exhibits of contemporary Southern folk art in memory.

Much of what has been gathered came from the collection of Barry and Allen Huffman of Hickory, who have been acquiring folk art for more than 30 years.

"Discover Folk Art" will also mark the opening of the mezzanine section of the Hickory Museum of Art, which has been under renovation all summer. It was a spectator overlook for an old gymnasium when the Third Avenue building was Hickory High School, which moved in 1972. In 1986, the building was converted to the Arts & Science Center of the Catawba Valley, and the art museum has 11 galleries there.

Swensson said the folk art exhibit will be semi-permanent and should be in place for at least a decade.

In all, about 150 pieces will be exhibited, including one of the last paintings by Minnie Reinhardt of Vale: a 1986 depiction of "Possum John" Rudisill, who used to entertain her after school with his banjo.

Works from James Harold Jennings, known for his colorful whirligigs, are also in the show. Jennings, who grew up near Pinnacle, was colorful himself - he made his home in an old school bus.

Since 2004, the Hickory Museum of Art has been on an acquisition spree of Southern folk art, picking a niche that few other museums concentrate on.

"We're hoping to get our collection recognized around the country," says Lise Swensson, executive director of the museum, which was started in 1944.