I have been to some great museums around the world and some here at home that were just getting started. I think museums show you what a community thinks is important – about the people who live there and about life.
So in my hometown museum, there are tributes to the people who helped make Florence what it is today and who Florence helped make, especially to the woman who thought Florence needed a museum and began it with a collection of her favorite things: Pueblo pottery. I attribute my lifelong fascination with this art form to the early influence of the Florence Museum.
Jane Beverly Evans was born in Marion County in 1866, but had lived in Florence with a family for many years before she went to Virginia Female Institute. Evans studied art at the Boston Conservatory of Music and Art, the Corcoran Art School in Washington, D.C., and with prominent artists of the day in New York.
It was during an extended visit to Taos, New Mexico, that Evans began collecting the first pieces that would become the foundation for the Florence Museum.
During the 1930s, Evans spent most of her time raising money, acquiring items for the museum and setting up lectures and exhibits. She worked on the museum for more than 20 years before her death in 1950. Two years later, her brother helped locals move the museum into its current home on Spruce Street.
The pottery collection that remains as a permanent exhibit includes prehistoric Anasazi wares to 20th century revival potter Maria Martinez. The collection also includes Pueblo textiles, jewelry and costumes.
The museum also is dedicated to preserving and promoting the art of Florence native William H. Johnson, who died in obscurity after years in a mental institution, but whose work gained appreciation after his death.
He is known for his “primitivist” style depicting the life experiences of African-Americans in the rural South and in urban settings. The museum has five works by Johnson on display, representing distinct periods of the artist’s development.
The Florence Museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 2 to 5 p.m. Admission is free.