Art museum boasts eclectic local, international collection

Part of a totem done by a local artist is on display as part of a history exhibit at the West Tennessee Regional Art Center. | Photo by Victoria Stargel

By Amanda Parrish

Sunlight streams in windows, bouncing off white walls, metal picture frames and highly-glossed paintings. Wooden statues from distant countries and ages past stand guard and metal artwork hangs from the ceiling. Richly polished, old wooden floors creak as footsteps shuffle from one room to the next.

The West Tennessee Regional Art Center is home to many art pieces. The center is housed in the renovated city hall building in downtown Humboldt, Tenn.

Before its opening as the only permanent art center between Nashville and Memphis in 1994, the building was a storehouse for a local banking center. The city planned to transform it into a commerce and new municipal building.

Hearing the city’s plans from a patient, Humboldt native and art collector Dr. Benjamin Caldwell leaped at the chance to develop an arts center instead.

Caldwell and his wife, Gertrude, offered to donate 250 artworks if the building was made suitable for a museum.

Renovations included new windows to protect paintings and a new staircase for visitors to trek up and down.

“Most of the art from other countries was donated by the Caldwells,” said Bill Hickerson, curator of WTRAC, “though most of the artists are native Tennesseans.”

Works of art donated from the Caldwells cover a wide variety of mediums. A large wooden drum from Papua New Guinea stands imposing in the lower level, and a portrait of George Washington graces the wall in the same room as a woman’s elaborate cross stitch of cotton fields.

The center houses new exhibitions and displays permanent donated collections.

Students of all ages from all corners West Tennessee come to view the exhibits. The website also provides lesson plans for visiting teachers.

“Our mission is to promote education through the arts,” Hickerson said.

Student artists are offered many opportunities to benefit from WTRAC’s emphasis on community education. Competitions are regularly hosted by WTRAC.

Middle and high school students and instructors may submit works of art, and some scholarship money is awarded to the winners. Various art works from photography to abstract paintings chosen as the winning pieces are displayed at the art center for visitors to enjoy.

For Union, WTRAC provides opportunities for students to view art exhibitions outside of university setting. Art students frequent the halls for critique assignments, while poetry students study art pieces for inspiration.

“It’s handy,” said Bobby Rogers, professor of English. “It’s a good field trip to get out of the classroom.”

WTRAC supports its goal to educate the community with free admission and a staff of volunteers with only one paid position.

Open to the public and striving to broaden the horizons of West Tennessee’s people, WTRAC is a prime center for learning, creativity and inspiration.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.