Formerly known as the Montgomery Museum and Lewis Miller Regional Art Center and perched behind Montgomery County Courthouse on Pepper Street since circa 1980, the Montgomery Museum of Art and History went through a rebranding about four years ago. Now the museum is in the midst of another major development as it prepares to open in a new location on Main Street, next to the U.S. Post Office building.
This positions the museum in the heart of Town Square, and director Casey Jenkins is thrilled about this new opportunity. “This is our chance to make a huge splash and be a real community driver,” Jenkins says. “With more exhibit space, meeting space, parking and exposure, we are getting a chance to grow at a fraction of the cost of trying to expand at our current site.”
Though the new location boasts 15,000 square feet, the museum is also retaining the former property, choosing to lease it as office space while preserving the garden. “The garden is maintained by the NRV Master Gardeners and is a big draw for locals. We are grateful to have the chance to protect it and continue holding outdoor art installations in the garden area.”
The soft opening date for the new location is June 22, the same day as the Community Foundation of the New River Valley’s annual “Give Local” event, an entire day dedicated to non-profit fundraising. The ribbon cutting by the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce is 9 a.m. “There will be family-friendly activities all day, rolling into the evening with an emerging artist exhibit opening,” says Jenkins.
Prior to the soft opening, the museum will host the Arts?NRV Market on May 20 and 21 at The German Club Manor on the campus of Virginia Tech. Local juried artists will sell some of their pieces and demonstrate their incredible skills. This year the event will also hold a fashion show with food, drink and music on Friday evening.
Heritage Day is on the calendar for August 20, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. New, exciting activities are planned to kick off the first major event in the new location, including guided tours of the building. “The move is a catalyst to opening new doors for ways in which we engage the community,” Jenkins relates.
Curator of the Montgomery Museum, Sherry Wyatt, explains how the most interesting things happen at the intersection of art and history. “In the decade since I became curator, we have worked to bring exhibits that entertain and enlighten,” she explains. “We are especially proud of our most recent exhibits that strive to bring attention to stories from the African American community.”
In partnership with Christiansburg Institute, storyboards were unveiled in front of the building, an art form that depicts slavery, community life and education in the 1800s. “One storyboard in particular by Lewis Miller is a sketch of enslaved people being sold at auction here in Town Square,” Jenkins declares. “His simple sketch of an observation of daily life is now the anchor to this entire story — we know about history because of the art.”
Wyatt’s favorite exhibits combine personal narratives with artifacts and photographs from the museum’s extensive collections “to immerse the viewer in another time,” she says. “Making exhibits is a creative process that often starts with a simple question suggested by an artifact, photograph or oral history narrative. The interesting thing is that exhibits tend to build upon one another as we gain information and better understand the rich history of Montgomery County. I don’t think I will ever tire of learning about this history and bringing it to museum visitors in imaginative ways.”
Combining art and history is its own form of artistry, and the Montgomery Museum of Art and History is weaving a beautiful multi-cultural thread into the fabric of our region.
Freelance writer Emily Kathleen Alberts believes finding real answers about the past is all about asking creative questions.
Text by Emily Kathleen Alberts
Photos courtesy of Montgomery Museum of Art and History