By Conner Furr
With the Asheville Art Museum’s 70th anniversary on the horizon, the current incarnation of the institution prepares for further renovations in order to develop a contemporary brand, while maintaining the cities culture and heritage. Allowing locals within the community an opportunity to reflect on the museum’s history and the importance of preserving one’s culture.
According to Jack Thomson, the executive director of the Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County, it is his job to maintain a tangible connection to Asheville’s past through preservation.
“I think a lot of folks here understand and embrace the idea and importance of historic preservation,” Thomson said.
The history within a community gives the citizens of that place the real connection to authenticity and heritage, Thomson said.
According to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro graduate, even though contemporary aspects of the city continue to grow every year, the historic architecture and preservation are the foundations of Asheville.
“Folks come to Asheville to be within a community that has a real sense of authenticity. The downtown area is itself a museum with sidewalks,” Thomson said.
Not only does the Preservation Society share similar goals with the Asheville Art Museum in regard to maintaining western North Carolina’s culture, they both share a physical piece of the town’s history.
Although 324 Charlotte St. acts as the current home for the Preservation society, it was the location of the first incarnation of the Asheville Art Museum.
According to the Preservation Society the Asheville Artist’s Guild established the Museum and held a grand opening on May 4, 1949.
Kieta Osteen-Cochrane, a current member of the Preservation Society and Asheville resident, said the first location of the Asheville Art Museum continues to be a positive memory for her.
“I grew up here and bicycled around a lot, mostly with my friend Sonya. We would bicycle down to the museum when we were old enough to leave the neighborhood,” Osteen-Cochrane said.
According to the Asheville local, the museum would hold an open house on Sundays and offer refreshments to patrons.
“We would come in and the ladies made us very welcome and never pressured us in any way,” Osteen-Cochrane said. “Somehow we just knew to look at the art first before the punch and cookies were forthcoming.”
Those working in the museum were always very helpful and answering any questions from patrons and allowed for various interpretations of the art, according to Osteen-Cochrane.
“I didn’t know very much about visual language or visual media at the time,” Osteen-Cochrane said. “They always seemed more interested in what we saw rather than telling us what we saw.”
According to Osteen-Cochrane, her memories of the museum remain as a very positive reinforcement to the love of art.
Although Asheville’s downtown area continues to experience regular development pressures, there have not been too many major demolitions, according to Thomson.
“When it comes to losing pieces of historical significance, the only evident culprits are construction and poor planning. There was a brewery that tore down an old African American hospital for a parking lot, that’s just poor planning,” Thomson said.
According to Thomson, Americans seem to think they must mark every place they occupy.
“It’s kind of like a dog lifting the leg at the fire hydrant as he goes by,” he said.
While negative aspects of urban development in Asheville exist, an archivist at Western Regional Archives recalls a positive result from such an experience.
“Shortly after I moved to Asheville, time capsule was unearthed downtown. They found it in the cornerstone of the Vance Monument while it was being renovated,” Sarah Downing said.
According to Downing the materials found within the capsule dated back to 1887, the year of the monument’s dedication.
“I remember that just being a really cool step back into history,” Downing said.
According to Thomson, one of the largest components of Asheville’s history and heritage is being a destination for visitors over the last 200 years.
“We have traditional artists making mountain landscapes and then we have some very avant-garde folks that are doing wildly imaginative works. I think our community definitely embraces that,” Thomson said.
According to Osteen-Cochrane, the Asheville native, preserving heritage and culture remains a necessity in today’s world.
“To preserve heritage is extremely important,” said Osteen-Cochrane. “I think we need to know what made this region, with all of its flaws and successes.”