This Month in History – Neal Thomas’s One-Man Show, September 13, 1958

On September 13, 1958, local artist Cornelius “Neal” Thomas’s first one-man show opened at the Artists’ Gallery on Post Office Avenue. Mr. Thomas’ show consisted of 20 paintings with titles like “Armageddon,” “Let There Be Light,” and “Up, Up, Up, Up, Up.” The invitation to the opening included his artist’s statement “I am interested in the creation of beauty; these things of beauty, truth, love and freedom come from the Author of All Beauty, Truth, Love and Freedom by ‘insporation.’”

At the time of the show, the Artists’ Gallery was a new venue. Hester C. Donnelly and Virginia H. McQueen opened the space just a few months earlier in July to provide a “convenient show room for the talents of local artists.” When it opened, artist Claude Howell noted, in his typically acerbic style, “It was not so good but it gave us a place to exhibit.”

Before World War II, things had been looking up for art in Wilmington. A Museum, funded by the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration as well as city, county, and private funds, opened in 1938. The Wilmington Museum of Art put on a plethora of exhibits of a wide range of types of art. But by 1942, wartime exigencies had put the kibosh on the institution. As artist Claude Howell put it in June of 1942, “This is the last exhibition we shall have for we have no more money. The stupid city and county fathers have told us that art is a luxury and refuse to give us an appropriation.”

Right after the war, the community’s artists struggled to find exhibit space in town. By the early 1950s, though, there were signs that the Wilmington art scene was regaining some momentum. In the Spring of 1953, Claude Howell and his friend Gar Faulkner staged the first Cottage Lane Art show, as a part of the Azalea Festival. Claude commented “We began the Cottage Lane Art Show, hoping to bring some culture to the Azalea Festival.” The entry form for the show declared “It is hoped that this Sidewalk Exhibition will stimulate interest in painting and photography in this section, and while the Committee realizes that it will be impossible for all participating artists to be present at all times during the exhibition, it is suggested that they be present as much as possible, feeling that this will make a much more entertaining and interesting exhibition.” The first Cottage Lane Art show was, apparently, a great success, with approximately 10,000 people seeing the show.

Hoping to capitalize on Cottage Lane’s success, fifteen artists set up the Wilmington Art Association later the same year. They began to promote the idea that the town needed gallery space. And, around the same time, Claude Howell began teaching art at Wilmington College. So, by the time the Artists’ Gallery opened in 1958, the art community had been active for a number of years. Donnelly and McQueen, both artists themselves, had lofty visions for their new space. The program for Neal Thomas’s show stated “We aim to bring to this section advantages which are now centered primarily in metropolitan areas.”

After four years on Post Office Avenue, Hester Donnelly and Virginia McQueen went on—with the support of local artists and townspeople—to open the St. John’s Art Gallery on April 5, 1962.

To see more images related to this column, click here.


Previous Columns

August: August 26, 1920 – the Women’s Suffrage Amendment is officially ratified 
July:
July 15, 1977, One Short March, One Long Journey
June:
D-Day, Henry Jay MacMillan, and World War II
May:
Firestarter Premieres on College Road
April:
The Kenan Memorial Fountain gets a facelift, April 14, 2005
March:
Lethia Sherman Hankins
February:
The Great Fire of 1886
January 2020:
Cape Fear Museum gets a new home, January 18, 1992
December:
The Catherine Kennedy Home: a longstanding local institution
November:
Taft Day, November 9, 1909
October:
The Daily Record, October 20, 1898
September:
September 15, 1990
August:
Honoring “Hi Buddy” Wade on his 90th Birthday
July:
July 15, 1977, One Short March, One Long Journey
June:
The USS North Carolina lands a Kingfisher, June 25, 1971
May:
May is Prom Season, May 12, 1962
April: 
Income Tax Deadline Day
March: 
Women’s History Month, March 8
February: 
A February Fundraiser, 2008
January 2019: 
Voting for Liquor by the Drink, January 12, 1979


Invitation to Neal Thomas’ One-Man Art Show, 1958
1985.029.0003
Gift of New Hanover County Library

Neal Thomas Artwork, 1962
1999.018.0001
Gift of Neal Thomas

Cottage Lane Art show, 1954
1998.103.0012
Gift of the Estate of Claude Howell
814 Market Street • Wilmington, NC 28401 • Phone 910-798-4370 • Fax 910-798-4382