Alabama Art Museum – A vision for L.A.

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 20, 2001

Features Editor

Usually, big things happen in our big cities – Montgomery, Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile.

But on some rare occasions, big things happen in small places.

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And if the people of Troy and Pike County are ready to believe in a vision, it could happen here.

Nall (Hollis), a native Trojan and a highly acclaimed international artists has a vision for his hometown that other cities would gladly welcome into reality.

The artist’s vision is to establish an Alabama Art Museum in his hometown that will bring international attention to the rich heritage and the immense talent of artisans native to Alabama.

"I have been advised that Troy is not a good place for the museum," Nall said. "Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile, Fairhope and Auburn University have all been suggested and several cities have shown an interest. But I was born and raised in Troy. I want to see the museum here in L.A. because this area is the same, geographically, as the South of France and has great potential as a tourist attraction."

Nall has lived in the South of France for 25 years and he said there is a parallel between that area and South Alabama – mountains to the north, beautiful coast to the south and sparsely populated woodlands in between.

The people of northern France travel south to where the good weather is as do their northern, eastern and western neighbors, he said. They come as tourists, as seasonal residents and some even come to stay permanently. They bring dollars and they spend dollars, giving a gigantic boost to the South of France as they drink in the warmth, beauty and culture of the Riviera.

"South Alabama has the same type of tourist possibilities," Nall said. "It is inevitable that it will happen over the next 20 years as tourists begin to discover L.A. If we give them some reason to

stop in Troy and Pike County we will benefit greatly."

But, Alabama is not considered a mecca for artists.

"Here you almost have to stumble over art – like a roadkill,," Nall said. "You slam on brakes and get out to see what it is. We need to put the museum in the middle of the road – the middle of Highway 231."

Nall is offering his Alabama Art collection as seed for the Alabama Art Museum and the Alabama art movement, which actually started at Musée Nall in Vence, France last summer. At his museum in the South of France, Nall showcased 13 Alabama artists and the exhibition opened to rave reviews.

"This is a gift of emotion for me," he said. "After standing here in the cemetery where my great-grandfather is buried, I knew that this vision had more to do with the heart than with money. It is my vision to put Alabama and Alabama artists, who are a wonderful natural resource, in the international spotlight. We started the ball rolling yesterday with the symbolic union of the City of Troy and its entities. It’s totally out of my hands now. It’s up to the powers that be and to the people of the community. If they join me in this vision, together we can make a difference."

Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford said the significance of locating the Alabama Art Museum in Troy is obvious.

"To have such a museum here increases tourism dramatically," he said. "In addition to the increased sales tax, it would bring exposure to other things in our city. Nall’s vision is to expand the Pioneer Museum of Alabama to include the Alabama Art Museum and that is very appropriate. Many Alabama artists are pioneers in some sense. The Alabama Art Museum would make Troy unique among other Alabama towns. I fully believe this is something we can pull off. I really appreciate Nall and Tuscia’s commitment to this effort and I hope our community will see the value of it and give full support to it."

Marsha Gaylard, president of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce was equally enthusiastic

in her comments about the proposed museum.

"This is one of the biggest things we have had an opportunity to try to make happen for Troy and Pike County," she said. "The Alabama Art Museum will bring a new segment of people to our area – people who have had no reason to come here before or to stop as they pass through. This is the biggest thing we have going for us right now and I am excited about the possibilities a museum of this nature will bring to Troy, Pike County and South Alabama. It can put us on the map."

Gaylard said funding for the museum will come from private donations and, hopefully, generous grants.

"The Alabama Council on the Arts and Humanities is behind this Alabama Art movement,

and so are the governor and Dr. David Bronner," she said. "With their support and with Nall leading the way, it can happen."

The Pioneer Museum of Alabama has come far in 30 years and Charlotte Gibson, museum director, said the pace has now accelerated to the point that the museum has gained the reputation as a multidisciplinary facility.

"It will be natural for Alabama art to be showcased with the everyday life of our pioneer ‘artists.’" she said. "The museum of pioneer life and a museum of Alabama art will be perfect mates. We will be so fortunate for a small town and county, such as ours to have comprehensive, cultural collections of our heritage. It’s incredible that we have this opportunity."

And, Gibson said, what is even more incredible is that Nall is offering his collection of Alabama "artists" to the project.

"Nall is offering to his hometown, his home county and his home state, what he has struggled over the years to create," she said. "He is just handing it to us. What an opportunity for Troy, Pike County and Alabama. I hope he knows how much his generosity is appreciated."