Last Updated on April 7, 2023
For 70 years, the Asheville Art Museum has supported local, regional, and national artists, as well as tens of thousands of visitors who engage with fine art through the institution each year. Now, with recent renovations nearly complete, the museum is poised to be a downtown landmark for generations to come.
The Asheville Art Museum is officially reopening to the public next month. So, we thought this would be a great time to reacquaint ourselves with its history and some of its most famous artists. We hope you enjoy these four colorful stories about the Asheville Art Museum.
Before the museum, the building housed Pack Memorial Library.
Asheville loves its art, but the city has also been a supporter of public libraries since 1879. In 1911, the first Pack Library was built at the center of downtown and named in honor of the late George Willis Pack (1831–1906), who donated the land for that purpose. Pack was a second-generation lumber merchant who made many philanthropic contributions to the city of Asheville during his 20 years in residence. Pack established a free kindergarten in town, donated the land for the courthouse and surrounding square, aided hospitals and veterans organizations, and deeded the land for three city parks.
The library facility was moved in 1978 to accommodate its growing collection, but evidence of its previous location is still apparent. For one, the central block of downtown is still known as Pack Square. In addition, above the side entrance of the Asheville Art Museum, you can still read the inscription “Pack Memorial Library.”
Asheville Art Museum focuses on 20th and 21st century American artists.
The Asheville Art Museum serves 24 counties of Western North Carolina as the premier institution for visual arts in the region. Its history goes back to 1948, but its focus has always been on modern American art with a “sub-focus on art of particular importance to Western North Carolina.” Among the artists in its permanent collection are several who studied or taught nearby at Black Mountain College, including visual artists Josef and Anni Albers.
In operation from 1933–1957, BMC was an unconventional and self-guided institution, and thus unaccredited. Nevertheless, the college attracted artists, writers, and thinkers from all over, including Albert Einstein (lecturer), Robert Creeley (student and instructor), Jack Kerouac (student and visiting writer), and Buckminster Fuller (instructor). In his classroom, Josef Albers promoted the incorporation of fine arts with craft, and experimentation with deliberation. That approach would have a lasting effect on the focus of the college, and the technique would have long-lasting influences in post-war art.
Asheville Art Museum has an extensive permanent collection, with some very rare pieces.
The Asheville Art Museum’s permanent collection contains more than 3,500 media works and 4,905 architectural drawings. In its previous space, the museum could exhibit about 3% of its permanent collection at any given time. Once the newly renovated and expanded building reopens next month, the museum will be able to show closer to 10% of its permanent collection at any given time, which is more in line with other prominent museums.
Among the pieces in the museum’s collection is a painting by Zelda Fitzgerald. Known primarily as the wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald (This Side of Paradise, The Great Gatsby), Zelda was an accomplished dancer, author, and artist in her own right. Zelda began visiting Asheville in the mid-1930s, seeking treatment Highland Hospital in the Montford neighborhood. Tragically, Zelda died in a fire at the hospital, along with eight other women, in 1948. After her death, her mother destroyed much of her artwork, but the Asheville Art Museum has retained one piece in its permanent collection. “Japanese Magnolias,” pictured above, was painted in 1945.
Opening day is November 14!
For three years the Asheville Art Museum has undergone major construction. Among the projects completed were the historic preservation of the North Wing (the 1926 Pack Library building), renovation of museum spaces, and new construction to transform the museum overall into a cohesive and inviting layout. After all this work, the Asheville Art Museum is scheduled to reopen at 2 South Pack Square next month!
Art lovers around the country have been looking forward to the museum’s relaunch. Now, the museum has officially set the reopening date for November 14, 2019. A series of events are scheduled for opening day and the following weekend. From public tours to museum yoga, there will be something to capture every interest. The Asheville Art Museum also offers nearly 500 educational programs for adults, families, and educators each year. So, it’s easy to engage with the arts at your level.