The Huntsville Museum of Art (HMA), located in downtown Huntsville, Madison County, focuses primarily on art by southern artists and works that relate to the region. It currently owns a permanent collection of more than 3,000 pieces that forms the basis of several yearly exhibitions. Typically, the museum sees an average of 80,000 visitors per year.
Huntsville Museum of Art The museum was founded on August 13, 1970, by a city ordinance that established the Museum Board of the City of Huntsville. Initially housed in a local municipal building, HMA later moved temporarily to the campus of the University of Alabama in Huntsville. By March 1975, HMA moved into its first permanent facility in a 17,000-square-foot wing of the Von Braun Civic Center. Accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums followed in 1980, and the museum proceeded to expand its collection. (HMA would be re-accredited with distinction in 1989, 2004, and 2020.) The space proved inadequate for the growing collection and, with funds from the city and private donations, the museum opened in a new $7.4 million, 46,000-square-foot building in March 1998 in Huntsville’s Big Spring International Park.
The HMA’s large permanent collection is primarily focused on nineteenth and twentieth century American art with an emphasis on art from the Southeast. African, Asian, and European art from cultures influential on American art is a secondary collecting focus. Notable American holdings include works by James McNeil Whistler, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol. Significant southeastern artists with ties to Alabama include William Christenberry, David Parrish, and Stephen Rolfe Powell. Contemporary works in wood, glass, metal, clay, and fiber have been added to the collection, with artists including Dale Chihuly, William Morris, and Philip Moulthrop. In 2008, the museum acquired the prestigious Sellars Collection of Art by American Women, which includes more than 400 paintings, drawings, and sculptures by some 250 American women artists active between 1850 and 1940. An eclectic holding of more than 600 works in various media form the remainder of the collection. These pieces include the unique assembly of sterling silver animals created by luxury Italian jewelry firm Buccellati; European and Japanese prints; Chinese snuff bottles; and carved objects from various African peoples.
Buccellati Silver Gallery Since 1986, HMA has presented a noteworthy series of solo exhibitions highlighting regional contemporary artists. Shown under the title Encounters, these exhibitions afford viewers an opportunity to see how creative inspiration combines with subject and materials to convey a unique artistic expression. Throughout the years, the series has developed a strong critical reputation in the Southeast. The galleries that house the exhibitions are large enough to accommodate a comprehensive body of work but small enough to allow visitors to experience a sense of intimacy. An illustrated catalogue, featuring an extended interview with the artist, accompanies each exhibition. Notable Encounters artists include Craig Nutt, Art Werger, Lanford Monroe, Evan Wilson, Shane Fero, Larry Walker, and Dean Mitchell. In addition to this recurring exhibition program, the museum also hosts the Voices of Our Times series, which brings people of note in the arts, academia, publishing, and politics to HMA for in-depth discussions and presentations. Past featured speakers have included sports journalist Paul Finebaum, actress Ali MacGraw, civil rights activist and politician Andrew Young Jr., author Joyce Carol Oates, journalist David Sanger, and fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt.
In 2006, the museum opened an addition, Plaza in the Park, which provides space for Museum Academy classrooms, dining facilities, and the Children’s Community Gallery. The Museum Academy offers art classes on seasonal schedules for students of all ages. In 2010, the museum completed a $7.5 million, 21,000-square-foot expansion named the Davidson Center for the Arts. The expansion added seven more galleries, one of which is interactive, attached museum parking, and special events facilities. The museum is funded primarily by private and corporate donations and grants and is governed by the Huntsville Museum of Art Board of Directors.