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Blowing Rock Art and History Museum Hosts Preview Party and Grand Opening of ‘The Painted Song’ Nov. 8

by Madison V. Fisler

Nov. 8, 2013. The Blowing Rock Art and History Museum is pleased to announce their newest exhibit, “The Painted Song,” a collection of works by Wiili Armstrong, a local outsider artist who lived in Boone and sold his work on King Street. 

Photo Courtesy of Tim Miller at Blowing Rock Frameworks and Gallery
Photo Courtesy of Tim Miller at Blowing Rock Frameworks and Gallery

A preview party for Wiili Armstrong and his work will be held on Friday, Nov. 8, from 6-8 p.m. at the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum. The preview party will be free and open to the public.  

The museum will also host a film screening and roundtable discussion alongside the exhibit on Wednesday, Nov. 13. At 6 p.m. “From Billy to Wiili: A Bipolar Artist’s Journey,” a documentary film about the artist will be showcased in the Community Meeting room at the Museum. 

“The exhibit will contain between 60 and 70 pieces,” said Allyson Teague, assistant director and exhibits manager of the BRAHM.

“We have a lot of artwork on canvas, but he did a lot of ‘found art’ pieces where he would find things in dumpsters and paint on them. In the exhibit we have an ironing board, furnace door, hub cap, a cabinet door and a closet door.”

Armstrong, who passed away in 2003, did the majority of his work in acrylic, but also used watercolor and mixed media. 

Armstrong’s colorful works and bold brush strokes have led to him being dubbed the “High Country van Gogh” by some. 

“His work is very colorful and definitely abstract. I have heard him called the High Country van Gogh several times,” Teague said. 

Twenty-five pieces included in the exhibit come from the collection of Tim Miller of Blowing Rock Frameworks and Gallery, who was a personal friend of Armstrong. 

“All but six of the pieces that I donated for the exhibit were personally given to me by Wiili,” Miller said. “When we first opened the [Blowing Rock Frameworks and] gallery in 1994, he was one of the first artists we displayed.”

As a personal friend and art colleague, Miller knew Armstrong both artistically and as a friend.

“He was a very sensitive guy, and of course he had some disabilities. He lived on the street some of his life, he lived in shelters and in public housing. If you look at his work you see inspiration from many artists, including van Gogh. In Wiili’s words, he was a poet and then an artist. He loved his poetry.”

The inspiration for many of the pieces in the “Painted Song” exhibition come from Armstrong’s childhood, when his father would take him on bird watching trips.

“Wiili’s dad was an ornithologist. He would take Wiili to South America and out west to go bird watching many times. Wiili really loved birds, butterflies, mammals, sea life, everything as far as nature goes. There is a lot of that in most of these paintings. It’s a part of his young childhood that he couldn’t let go of. It was one way to revert back to a cleaner, happier day for him.”

Hanging will begin on Wednesday, after the current exhibit, Art Among Friends, is taken down on Monday.

“The Painted Song” will be on display until May 3, 2014. 

The Blowing Rock Art and History Museum is located at 159 Chestnut Street in Blowing Rock. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, and admission is $8 for adults, $5 for children, seniors and military.