History of the Weatherspoon Art Museum

Founded in 1941 by Gregory Ivy, the first chairperson of the Art Department at Woman’s College (now UNC Greensboro), the Weatherspoon Art Museum has grown from a university teaching gallery to a fully professional institution that is nationally recognized for its excellent collections, dynamic exhibition program, and exceptional teaching and learning. The museum serves a broad audience of approximately 36,000 visitors annually, including UNCG students, faculty, and staff; the Piedmont Triad communities; and visitors from across the state, region, and nation. The museum was accredited by the American Association of Museums in 1995 and earned reaccreditation status in 2005 and 2015.

Since its inception, the Weatherspoon has focused on building a collection of modern and contemporary art that is one of the best in the Southeast. Numbering nearly 7,000 works, the collection represents all major art movements from the beginning of the 20th century to the present. Maria Berrio, Huma Bhabha, Elizabeth Catlett, Nick Cave, Enrique Martínez Celaya, Willem de Kooning, Eva Hesse, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol, and Ai Weiwei are just a few of the major artists represented. Other highlights include the Dillard Collection of Art on Paper, the Etta and Claribel Cone Collection, and the Lenoir C. Wright Collection of Japanese Prints.

The Weatherspoon’s exhibitions offer visitors the opportunity to see and learn directly from significant examples of modern and contemporary art. The schedule showcases work by outstanding artists of national and international reputation; thematic exhibitions on timely aesthetic, cultural, and social issues; focused exhibitions of emerging artists; selections from the collection; UNCG MFA thesis shows; and Falk Visiting Artist exhibitions, a collaborative program with the UNCG School of Art.

The museum’s educational offerings include staff and docent-led tours; gallery talks, lectures, and panel discussions; social events; and outreach efforts, publications, and hands-on workshops. The museum has enjoyed strong regional and national reviews in outlets such as Art Daily, Art Papers, Artforum, Art on Paper, Art in America, and Blouin Artinfo.

Weatherspoon Guild in the McIver Gallery.
Gregory D. Ivy with patrons.
Mr. + Mrs. Dillard Stark at Art on Paper

The Weatherspoon Art Museum currently has more than 6,000 works in its permanent collection. 

Claribel and Etta Cone were two of thirteen children of Herman and Helen Cone, mid-19th-century German-Jewish immigrants who achieved success in America in the dry goods and grocery industry and whose sons developed the South’s textile industry. Prosperous and well educated, the sisters were raised in Baltimore, Maryland, where Claribel (1864–1929) graduated first in her class from Woman’s Medical College and Etta (1870–1949) managed the family’s domestic details. In 1898, while redecorating the family’s Victorian-style parlor, Etta purchased five paintings by American impressionist Theodore Robinson. This first acquisition would inspire a lifetime of collecting.

Etta shared her love of art with her older sister Claribel, and the two began buying artworks in earnest in the autumn of 1905 and winter of 1906. The profits from the family’s textile business provided the sisters with a lifelong allowance that insured their financial independence and funded their many purchases. While visiting Paris, the Cone sisters met Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse and began to collect their works long before modern art was widely known, let alone appreciated. The sisters’ adventurous spirit in collecting over the next forty years resulted in the formation of one of the most important collections of modern art in America. Eventually, the women donated about 3,000 works of art, along with several hundred thousand dollars, to the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The sisters also donated 242 artworks to the Weatherspoon. Both Claribel and Etta were frequent visitors to North Carolina. Moses Cone, their eldest brother, had built a vacation home in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, their sister Carrie Cone Long lived in Asheville, and several other brothers worked and lived right in Greensboro. One of Etta’s sisters-in-law, Laura Weill (Mrs. Julius) Cone, was a loyal alumna of Woman’s College (now UNCG). Laura knew that the Weatherspoon Art Gallery had been founded on campus in 1941 and was struggling to establish itself. She asked Etta if she would consider making a donation of art to the Weatherspoon. In her will dated May 18, 1949, Etta (Claribel having predeceased her by twenty years) gifted the college an astonishing collection of sixty-seven prints and six bronzes by Henri Matisse as well as a large number of modern prints and drawings, including examples by Pablo Picasso, Felix Vallotton, Jacques Villon, Raoul Dufy, and John Graham. The Cone Collection remains one of the Weatherspoon’s most impactful and important acquisitions to this day.

Cone Sister Video

Please note: Not all works of art or collections are on view at all times, particularly works from the Claribel and Etta Cone Collection and Lenoir C. Wright Collection. As we continue to digitize the nearly 7,000 objects in our collection, guests may view them online through our collection search.

Since 1965, the Dillard Paper Company, later xpedx, and now the Dillard Fund has generously supported the presentation of Art on Paper exhibitions as well as the development of an important collection of works on paper purchased from those shows. Now numbering close to 600 items, the Dillard Collection of Art on Paper includes examples by noted artists such as Diana Al-Hadid, Romare Bearden, Julie Buffalohead, Stuart Davis, Toyin Ojih Odutola, and Saya Woolfalk, among others. In addition, the Weatherspoon takes pride in having acquired from past Art on Paper exhibitions the first works to enter a museum collection by Eva Hesse, Robert Smithson, and Amy Cutler. Unsurprisingly, the works that comprise the collection vary in theme, technique, style, and purpose and consequently contribute to museum exhibitions in myriad ways. Each work on paper—and the collection as a whole—serves as a valuable resource and source of pride for the campus and broader communities.

The Lenoir C. Wright Collection of Japanese woodblock prints at the Weatherspoon Art Museum is the only collection of its kind and depth in the state. A professor of Asian history and culture at UNC Greensboro from 1953 until his retirement in 1978, Dr. Wright (1911–2003) amassed over 400 18th- and 19th-century ukiyo-e (floating-world) prints during his lifetime, which he donated over time to the Weatherspoon. Due to their light sensitivity, prints from the Wright Collection must be sparingly exhibited in the museum’s galleries.

By the early 1700s, Edo (modern-day Tokyo) had grown into a bustling metropolis of more than a million inhabitants, and its vibrant urban culture became the inspiration for a new form of artistic expression known as ukiyo-e—pictures of the floating world. The floating world referred to the escapist and ephemeral pleasures offered in Edo’s kabuki theaters and the Yoshiwara, a licensed brothel district on the northern outskirts of the city. Celebrated actors and glamorous courtesans are the subjects of most floating-world images, but because ukiyo-e artists were especially attuned to popular pastimes and pursuits, they also exploited the public’s love of travel and its fascination with samurai history. By the early 19th century, landscapes and warriors had been added to the genre’s repertoire of images.

Ukiyo-e artists favored the woodblock print medium because it enabled mass production, from cheaply produced black-and-white images to luxurious full-color designs using exotic pigments and precious minerals. Successful designs were issued in several editions to meet popular demand. These prints carried Edo’s urban culture and floating-world sensibilities far beyond their origins in the entertainment districts.

Please note: Not all works of art or collections are on view at all times, particularly works from the Claribel and Etta Cone Collection and Lenoir C. Wright Collection. As we continue to digitize the nearly 7,000 objects in our collection, guests may view them online through our collection search.

The Weatherspoon Art Museum’s collection is one of the foremost of its kind in the Southeast. The museum began actively collecting art upon its founding in 1941. Since then, it has maintained a commitment to the art of its time with a focus on works made in the United States from the beginning of the 20th century to the present. While this commitment and focus remain, the museum also recognizes the art world’s increasingly global nature. Thus, its collections also feature work by artists who were born outside the United States but have a significant U.S. presence.

Artists working in the United States during the first decades of the 20th century found inspiration from many sources—the city, science and technology, European art forms, and so on—to explore new modes of creativity. They responded to changing perceptions of traditions, artistic practices, and channels of expression in a multitude of ways, with some even seeking the possibility of a universal visual language. Works created in the first half of the 20th century demonstrate the creative possibilities of early modernism, social realism, abstract expressionism, and geometric abstraction.

While traditional approaches to making art did not disappear, artists during the second half of the 20th century began to explore new art forms such as happenings, performance, earthworks, installation, video, and film—processes that continue to influence and inspire artists today. Many artists utilized imagery from popular culture, mass media, and the history of art, while others questioned the concept of originality and even the art object itself.

Concerns about identity politics also became evident, and nowadays a plethora of social, political, philosophical, and artistic ideas abounds in contemporary art. While the resulting complexity may seem at times confusing, it offers a richness and diversity without precedent in human history.

Please note: We continue to digitize the nearly 7,000 objects in our collection so that guests may view them online through our collection search portal.

Embellished with natural plantings, flowering shrubs, and cozy seating, the Weatherspoon’s brick-paved courtyard features 7,000 square feet for the display of sculpture from the collection. Easily accessible from the adjacent visitor parking lot, the courtyard showcases work by modern and contemporary artists that range stylistically from geometric abstraction to lifelike figurative representations. Work by historically significant artists such as George Rickey and Richard Hunt converse with contemporary objects by Huma Bhabha, Deborah Butterfield, Antony Gormley, and Dan Graham.

The Sculpture Courtyard is open during museum hours.