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Salem Museum Receives Biggs Painting from Local Bank - abc27 WHTM

Salem Museum Receives Biggs Painting from Local Bank

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Salem, VA - BB&T Bank has donated a painting by famed local illustrator Walter Biggs (1886-1968) to the Salem Museum.
The painting portrays a scene from Salem’s Water Street neighborhood, the main African American community in Salem. Water Street was a favorite subject for Biggs.

“We are thrilled with this donation,” said Salem Museum director John Long. “It adds so much to our exhibit of Biggs’ works, and is doubly important for what it reveals about Salem’s African-American neighborhood.”

Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church, a prominent church on Water Street (now South Broad) is easily identified in the painting. A residence across the street, seen from behind, was built prior to 1883 at the corner of Water Street and Calhoun. It was on the western end of the lot where the Salem city courthouse stands now. Both buildings were razed years ago.

The watercolor hung for many years in the College Avenue branch in Salem, which will soon move to a newer building. Assistant Vice President Dan Toti proposed the bank donate the painting to the Museum since it portrays a local scene.

Biggs’ sensitive portrayal of African American subjects, unusual for a white artist in the segregated south, earns him much acclaim today. Known for his illustrations in national publications during most of his illustrious career, Biggs retired to his hometown of Salem for the last years of his life and continued his career. Since his death in 1968, his local paintings have become particularly prized by collectors.

The Salem Museum, Roanoke College, and the City of Salem recently collaborated to have a roadside historic marker for Biggs placed in front of his home and studio at College and Boulevard, not far from the bank branch where this painting hung.

The Salem Museum is located at 801 East Main Street in Salem, and is open Tuesday to Friday from 10 to 4, and Saturday from 10 to 3. No admission is charged for the Museum galleries.


 

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