Permanent Collection

The decorative arts legacy of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee developed against the backdrop of European settlement of Virginia’s frontier – really America’s frontier. Prior to the middle of the 18th century, the Blue Ridge Mountains formed a steep barrier to settlement of Virginia’s great valley that lay just beyond it. It wasn’t until the end of that century that it reached all the way to what is today Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.

Transportation was the key to settlement, and the primary migration route was the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road. It wound from Philadelphia through the valley, taking on new names as it did – the Great Valley Road, the Stage Road, and locally, the Great Road. It was a great migration and comprised of multiple immigrants, with Scots-Irish and German being the main settler groups. Before it was over 250,000 people had traveled down the Great Road seeking a new life in America. Artisans soon followed, meeting the market needs of a new frontier economy that supplied everything from furniture and pottery to guns and metalwork.

Brisk trades were established early around towns that bordered the Great Road. In Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee, Abingdon, Jonesborough, Greeneville, and Rogersville became thriving centers of commerce. The new artisan culture responded to the market and to two other factors: makers and settlers alike arrived with a learned sense of style and preference, and artisans moved around, continuing the process of acquiring new techniques to suit the changing market. Many had learned their trades in the Philadelphia or Baltimore area before moving south and west down the Valley of Virginia. Some stayed here for generations while others kept moving west into Kentucky and beyond, and some even doubled back again. What emerged was a lively blend of fashion, tradition, and market preference, a regional look that has become known as Great Road Style.

Betsy K. White Cultural Heritage Gallery

Open Year Round The decorative arts legacy of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee developed against the backdrop of European settlement of Virginia’s frontier – really America’s frontier. Prior to the middle of the 18th century, the Blue Ridge Mountains formed a steep barrier to settlement of Virginia’s great valley that lay just beyond it. It wasn’t until ...

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A Day on the Abingdon Branch

(This exhibition is located at the head of the Creeper Trail at Abingdon’s tourism annex, the Findlay House, 300 Green Spring Road, Abingdon, VA) This rare photography collection captures the last steam train on the Virginia Creeper rail line. Of the Abingdon Branch, O. Winston Link said, “at times the locomotives are almost incidental to the picture. They add to ...

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Furniture

The earliest furniture was made during the closing years of the 18th century and in the style of English cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale. Despite the fact that early furniture was often made at home with little thought given to prevailing style, there was a market for fashionable furniture and trained cabinetmakers were here to supply it. Chippendale’s pattern book was ...

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Pottery

Pottery-making was an important local industry as early as the last years of the 18th century and lasting throughout the 19th century. All sorts of ceramic containers were made: jars, crocks, churns, milk pans, pitchers, honey pots, jugs, water coolers and even ink wells. Rich clay found along the rivers provided the natural resources, but transportation was also a key ...

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Textile

The decorative arts legacy of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee developed against the backdrop of European settlement of Virginia’s frontier – really America’s frontier. Prior to the middle of the 18th century, the Blue Ridge Mountains formed a steep barrier to settlement of Virginia’s great valley that lay just beyond it. It wasn’t until the end of ...

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WKMA continually brings new and exciting exhibits and artists to the museum experience. Explore what's next for us.

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Permanent Collection

View works from our Permanent Collection of art, part of the WKMA experience year round, featuring our most enduring pieces.

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Sculpture Garden

The Sculpture Garden is a beautiful part of our museum grounds experience, and part of our permanent collection of art.

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Past Exhibits

View previously exhibited work at the William King Museum of Art, a retrospective of past shows and galleries.

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