Paul Austin Wayne Whitener was the founder and first director of the Hickory Museum of Art. In 1935, the Hickory native and Duke University football player, spent the summer in Little Switzerland, North Carolina. It was there he met his future wife, Mildred McKinney Whitener Coe, and his career path would make a dramatic turn. He watched Mickey paint a mountain landscape and thought he would like to try his hand at it. Paul was a natural, and it was there his passion for art was born. Paul's artistic talent advanced rapidly. He enrolled in the Ringling Museum of Art's summer school in Little Switzerland, and later studied under notable artists, Wilford Conrow, Frank Herring and Donald Blake.
Paul's desire to share his own growing appreciation of art prompted him to announce his intention to start an art museum in Hickory, North Carolina, where he had been raised. Area residents shared his vision and in 1944 Paul Whitener's dream was realized, and the Hickory Museum of Art was established. Today, it is the second oldest art museum in North Carolina. Paul served as the first director until his death in 1959. Mickey became the director after his death and served in that position until 1995.
In 1986, the Hickory Museum of Art moved into its current location in the Arts and Science Center of Catawba Valley, initially built as Claremont High School. Our exhibitions feature our Permanent Collection of American Art and works borrowed from private collectors and other institutions.