Museum Faces: Billy Morris

Museum Faces: Billy Morris

William S. Morris III founded the Morris Museum of Art in 1992, in memory of his parents.  Morris, who is the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Morris Communications, also publishes The Augusta Chronicle, one of the country’s oldest continually published newspapers. The Morris Museum was first incorporated as a non-profit foundation in 1985, but the 1989 purchase of 230 paintings from a collector of Southern art became the cornerstone of the young museum.  “The reason we created the Morris Museum is that there was distinctly a need to focus on painting in the South,” said Morris in 1997 when interviewed by GREAT MUSEUMS executive producer Marc Doyle.  “Nobody was really doing it and … it was appalling to me, frankly, that somebody hadn’t done it on this scale before.”  In her interview, The Morris Museum director Keith Claussen explained that the South had changed so rapidly in the last 30 years, that it was simply “time to use art and the art of the South to talk about who we are.”  Claussen added,  “It’s been said that we’re the last region to recognize a regional art and that’s probably true, the South ahhh … we take our time about making our decisions.”

Museum founder Billy Morris remembers the opening day

“I might tell you a little anecdote.  When we began to see it come together, we had this collection in the closet, in the storage room, under the bed, I mean it was stored all around but then when Buck Pennington our curator put it up on these walls, it just came alive. It was far more than I had hoped for.  When we opened this museum, that night we had the black tie affair, ah…in September of 1992, we had a thousand guests that were invited.  Not a single soul had seen it. Nobody was allowed in here, we kept it under wraps.  And when we opened those doors, it was really a knock-out. People just said, “Wow, where did this come from!”

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