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.

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August: August 26, 1920 – the Women’s Suffrage Amendment is officially ratified 
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D-Day, Henry Jay MacMillan, and World War II
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January 2020:
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Taft Day, November 9, 1909
The Daily Record, October 20, 1898
September 15, 1990
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The USS North Carolina lands a Kingfisher, June 25, 1971
May is Prom Season, May 12, 1962
Income Tax Deadline Day
Women’s History Month, March 8
A February Fundraiser, 2008
January 2019: 
Voting for Liquor by the Drink, January 12, 1979

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

Neal Thomas Artwork, 1962
Gift of Neal Thomas

Cottage Lane Art show, 1954
Gift of the Estate of Claude Howell
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