The Isabel Anderson Comer Museum and Arts Center is an art and local history museum located in Sylacauga, Talladega County. The mission of the museum is to promote and recognize the local arts and humanities as well as to encourage both preservation of artifacts and education through the collections and events held there. The museum is housed in the former B. B. Comer Memorial Library constructed in 1939 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA); it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.
Isabel Anderson Comer Museum and Arts Center The museum was conceived of and founded by Isabel Anderson Comer. She was born in Montgomery and came from a distinguished Alabama family, with three Alabama governors, William Wyatt Bibb, Thomas Bibb, and Bibb Graves, as relatives. Her husband, James MacDonald Comer was the grandson of Braxton Bragg Comer, Alabama’s 33rd governor, for whom the library was named. The Comer family also had several members who were involved in the management of Avondale Mills.
Isabel Comer was dedicated to the civic and cultural life of the cities in which she lived. She was president of the Red Mountain Garden Club of America in Birmingham, Jefferson County, as well as a member of the Alabama chapter of the National Society of Colonial Dames in America and the Daughters of the American Revolution. She served as a member of the Committee of 100 of Birmingham and was known for supporting the arts. In Sylacauga, she was president of the Sylacauga Council on Arts and Humanities and started the push to transform the B. B. Comer Memorial Library into a museum. The museum opened in 1982 and was renamed for her in 1985 to recognize her efforts.
The museum houses a permanent collection of fine art, Native American artifacts, archaeological finds from Talladega County, and historical photographs from the local area. The foyer of the museum houses the permanent art collection, though some of the paintings are placed in the gallery area when there is no featured exhibit. The museum also displays works by Guiseppe Moretti, the noted Italian sculptor, and his assistant, Geneva Mercer. Moretti notably used and promoted Sylacauga’s high-quality marble, which earned it the nickname “The Marble City.” Also represented are the work of two contemporary Alabama sculptors, Frank Fleming and Craigger Browne.
Jim Nabors and Bill Nichols One gallery houses old photography of the local area, bound volumes of newspapers that date back to 1948, and World War II memorabilia. There is also a replica of the Hodges meteorite, so named for local resident Ann E. Hodges who was struck by the celestial object in her home in 1954. Another gallery displays information about Sylacauga marble, including both geological history and geochemistry information. The Native Sons Gallery holds memorabilia related to noted singer and Sylacauga native Jim Nabors, Lieut. Gen. James W. Crysel of Luverne, Crenshaw County, and William Flynt Nichols, a former Alabama congressman who was raised in the city. Nabors memorabilia includes photos, caricatures, newspaper articles, albums, costumes, trophies, and awards that relate to both his youth and his professional career. The Pioneer Room houses a simulated log cabin that displays old store ledgers, dresses from the late nineteenth century, antique tools and glassware, and a dollhouse. Art classes and meetings are held in this room. There is also a Civil War exhibit, with displays that highlight a Confederate uniform, photographs, and other local artifacts from the Sylacauga area.
Constructed of brick with a façade of local marble, the building is considered an example of “WPA Moderne,” a simpler design than typical WPA expressions of classical architecture. Its façade resembles a sixth-century BCE Greek treasury. A notable feature of the building is the pronaos, or inner area of a portico, for its simplicity. The building is largely original, including the floor plan and intact wood flooring and ceramic fixtures and floors in the two restrooms. Most of the windows were removed, however, because the natural light appropriate to a library would be harmful to works of art.
The museum and art center is located at 711 North Broadway Avenue. It is open Tuesday to Friday from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and by appointment; admission is free.