north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



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     Efforts to establish a state art museum in North Carolina began in 1924 with the formation of the State Art Society. Among the figures prominent in that organization were John Blair (its first president), Katherine Harrington, Robert Burton House, and Clarence Poe. In 1928 the Society received a bequest of money and seventy-five paintings from the estate of Robert F. Phifer, a North Carolina native who had moved to New York. The following year the group came under state patronage and control. A temporary museum was established in the Agriculture Building in Raleigh, and in 1939 it was moved to the former Supreme Court building.

     In 1947 Robert Lee Humber of Greenville lobbied the General Assembly for a bill to provide $1 million for the purchase of artworks for the state. The money was needed to match an equal amount from an anonymous donor (later identified as department store owner Samuel H. Kress). The bill passed, and the appropriation made North Carolina the first state to inaugurate an art collection with public funds. Three years later, Gov. Kerr Scott appointed a commission to oversee the purchase of artworks with state money.

     In 1953, the General Assembly appropriated funds for the conversion of an existing building on Morgan Street in Raleigh. The museum opened there on April 6, 1956, with W. R. Valentiner as the first director. In 1961, the legislature separated the museum from the Art Society, making it a state agency jointly governed by the state and a board of trustees. Ten years later, the Museum of Art became an entity of what is now the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. The current location on Blue Ridge Road opened on April 5, 1983. Through the 1990s, and into the new millennium, the museum experienced unprecedented growth to its art collection—both in quality and diversity. In addition to exhibit rotations, the museum offers educational programs for students, teachers, and the general public. Groundbreaking for a major expansion was held in the spring of 2007.

North Carolina Museum of Art: A Brief History (1986)
N.C. Museum of Art website:

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north carolina highway historical marker program

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources