SPARTA TEAPOT MUSEUM
The Board of Directors of the Sparta Teapot Museum of Craft & Design has determined that due to the economic downturn over the past 16 months and evaluation of future opportunities to raise enough funds to continue operation of a museum in Sparta, North Carolina, the organization will wind up its affairs and dissolve effective January 31, 2010.
Sparta Teapot Museum Board President John Brady says: “The decision was a difficult one, but in light of our economic climate it is the only viable option for the foreseeable future.”
During 2009, nearly $80,000 in private funds was raised for operations. The Museum held two gala benefits and launched a sustainer patrons program. While individually successful, these results fell short of the operational needs of the museum for the Main Street gallery even though expenses were reduced as much as possible. Prospects for 2010 fundraising are not promising enough to sustain the mission due to overall economic circumstances.
This lone visual arts learning center in the County has collaborated with businesses, non-profits, craftsmen and other visual and performing artists to enhance the cultural life of the community as well as to encourage visitors and to impact the economy of the county.
In 2009, the Museum had its most significant program year. Director Cynthia Grant, who joined the Museum in 2008, says:
2009 was our most successful year in terms of attendance. All our exhibits showcased local talent. We’re so fortunate to have generous citizens who allowed us to share their treasures with the community and visitors to the county. It’s disappointing that the economy isn’t in our favor.
The museum hosted four exhibitions in 2009 showcasing national, local and regional craft which earned praise for their creativity and excellence.
Alleghany Quilters Guild Celebrates National Quilting Month and Alleghany Schools’ Student Teapot Competition offered a collaboration showing 30 quilts and 150 teapots, showcasing the talents and creativity of the Alleghany Quilters Guild and youngsters in the county school system.
Penland School of Craft: Helping People Live Creative Lives included major work from artists who studied at the famous school started by Lucy Morgan here in the Blue Ridge. During the Penland show internationally renowned glass artist Richard Ritter gave a special presentation on glass-making at the museum.
Crafting Appalachian Musical Instruments, our most visited exhibition, celebrated Alleghany County’s Sesquicentennial (150th Anniversary). In conjunction with this show, acclaimed guitar-maker Wayne Henderson and Helen White gave a program of commentary about the instruments and performed music. Visitors to the museum enjoyed the expert craftsmanship displayed and had many other opportunities to enjoy beautiful sounds coming from the vintage instruments through the musicians who came to play and sing on Saturday afternoons.
Autumn in the Blue Ridge featured artists practicing in our mountains, including several skilled Alleghany County craftsmen, to the delight of residents and visitors alike. The influence of our county’s natural beauty on the artists was visible in the works exhibited.
The Sparta Teapot Museum project began in 2003 with the idea that the former Smithey building on Main Street in Sparta could be used to display the large teapot collection owned by California attorney Sonny Kamm and his wife, Gloria. Patrick Woodie of New River Community Partners spearheaded the initial efforts. Many Alleghany residents and others visited the Mint Museum of Craft and Design in Charlotte to see the record-setting exhibition The Artful Teapot, comprising entirely Kamm Collection teapots.
As the project progressed, it was determined that the Smithey building was too small for the museum. Plans moved forward in 2004 to design a larger museum on property purchased on Whitehead Street, to be financed through private donations and public funds. The State of North Carolina granted $200,000 for planning and design of the museum project, and $200,000 for construction of the museum facility, specifically for the Kamm Collection. The State required return of these unspent funds in 2009. Federal funds of $495,000 were likewise restricted to museum construction, were never received, and remain with the federal government.
No funds were received or expended for the project from Alleghany County or the Town of Sparta.
In 2006 Sparta Teapot Museum opened the Preview Gallery in storefront space at 18 S. Main Street. The acclaimed initial exhibition, curated by Mary Douglas, showed 75 extraordinary Kamm teapots. Late that year, after Woodie left New River Community Partners to join the North Carolina Rural Center, the Sparta Teapot Museum Board determined that a project costing $14.5 million was not feasible.
The need followed to develop greater local interest in and support of the Museum.
During 2007 Sarah Ross became interim Director. She developed a new business plan and a new concept for a museum measuring 16,000 square feet, to cost $3 million. Reacting to such a downsized museum, the Kamms withdrew. However, they did continue to contribute a selection of Kamm teapots to each of the two shows exhibited during 2008 at the gallery. They were:
Hot & Sweet: Tea Vessels featuring work from Potters of the Roan and four local potteries.
45 Years of Inspired Design—A Celebration of Piedmont Craftsmen’s 45th Anniversary. This exhibition was accompanied by presentations by Sharon Parker, fiber artist, at the gallery and in the schools.
In August 2008 the museum board hired Executive Director Cynthia Grant, but five weeks into her tenure the sharp economic downturn hit and the hopes of opening a new museum by 2011 were dashed. The museum board determined to operate the Museum and programs in the storefront location on Main Street for the foreseeable future. The museum continued through 2009 at the Main Street location staging exhibitions, programs and raising funds.
This past spring, a portion of the real estate being purchased on Whitehead Street was returned to its previous owners so that the organization could cease the mortgage payments, taxes and insurance associated with that property. The Board of Directors still hoped to build eventually on the remaining property on Whitehead Street. Unfortunately, the ongoing difficulties in the financial landscape have led to the decision to dissolve. The Board has thus arranged for the remaining Whitehead Street property to go to the Town of Sparta for benefit of local citizens.
The entire Board of the Museum extends its most sincere thanks both to the many artists who shared our vision and to our community, including its citizens, civic officials, volunteers, donors and business leaders who have supported the Sparta Teapot Museum.
For more information, please call John Brady or Carol Perdue at the museum, 336-372-7238.