The Vision of the Founders

The Eric Kelly Art Museum officially opened on May 4, 1982. The Stancil and Kelley family, which owns and operates the Museum, established in 1979 by Henry Stancil and his daughter Lovella S. Kelley Eric’s Grandmother, together with their art prodigy Eric Kelly.   Early on, there was only one hallway in the house dedicated for the used as the place to display Eric works.  The hall were lined with mostly portraits of historical African Americans, Carter G. Woodson, Harriet Tubman, sojourner truth, Dian Carol, Leroy Kelly,  martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey and other known historical people in the nineteenth centuries. By the time Mr. Kelly got out of high school in 1975, the collection had grown to over 100 drawings, pastel paintings, and 25 other works of art, including such works on wood and some pottery.  Eric dedication to his art making in high school won him the prestigious Art award by the Durham Links as the best artist in the state. Motivated by his love for history and the people who made it, Eric invited collectors to come by to buy his work.  This was the idea that Henry Stancil proclaimed when the museum was started.  Even though Eric was charged with the making the work for the museum, he was responsible in selling the work also.  Mr. Stancil had made clear his desire that the future of the museum be “of the first class and works sold to collectors only,” and to further that aim, within a week of opening Henry Stancil, contributed money to the museum and to Eric so he would not have to sell his work just to keep the museum open. On his birthday November 5, 1975 his grandfather called him on the phone ask him to come to his house. Once their he asked Eric how many piece of art he had done to win the award.  Eric responded about 50 to 75 pieces.  Then his grandfather pulled out money and ask him could he buy all of it.  It was the first time Eric sold a collection of his work at one time and it crystalize what his great grandfather meant by selling his art.  The sale of his high school collection was the starting point of the museum be a possibility in his mind. To this day, that one gesture of his grandfather changed Eric’s way of thinking and understanding about art and his importance to making art!


Eric went to college on art scholarship and continued to make art for the museum.  He believed if he continued build a collection of work the museum would not fail.  Once out of college Eric took art jobs and tried to sell art in the evenings in the new museum location on Elm Street.  With the appointment in 1982 as the art director after graduation at North Carolina Central University.  Eric began a time of reorganizing the museum.  Eric was the museum first appointed director by his grandmother; he began planning for the future of the museum and how to develop the collection, both of which would fulfill the aspirations of selling work to collectors and making art.  Eric to that end, as its Director, adopted a policy statement for the future museum practices. “Only appointments and only collectors” In the early day it was difficult to sell art because no one was looking to support museums, especially a museum named after the artist who was representing his own work.  No one believe that the museum was a real museum. Some said it was not a real museum because it was not big enough; it was not downtown in an art district and most important it only had one artist in it.  Eric found himself having to work during the day, which made the museum a part time gallery.  Some years the museum went months without a sale. Yet it was Henry Stancil words that ring in his ear every day, “be relentless in your work, protect it and do your best and the collector will come, be patient.  His Grandmother would say stand up for yourself and just believe in your art and the rest will take care of itself! This is your museum, your art is important and you have to believe in it, to keep it going” He found time in many of the various organization to paint or draw portraits of great leaders and to present them.   Eric once said to a group of students at his high school “The museum is his life passion and he enjoyed making art to share with the world.”

While things were not going well at the museum, Eric took a job selling cars, which would prove to change his life forever.  He learned the purpose of selling value of a product and the pay allowed him to focus on making art.  He began to use selling to collectors as his artist selling point.  He finally understood what his great grandfather was talking about that the price is the value you put on it, but time is the value you put in it.   Mr. Stancil would say, “Do your best work, sell it for what you believe it is worth, and don’t just give your talent away! 

In June 1989, while being the CEO of Kelly Worldwide Eric began outlining the museum purpose, scope, and program, among other things. That statement remains to this day the operative guide for the Museum.  In accordance with that policy, the Museum showcases and sell works that define Eric Kelly III style, passion and energy as a museum living artist.

The aim of the Eric Kelly Museum is not historical completeness but the making of individual art of “the highest possible aesthetic quality” as determined by condition, rarity, importance, and communicative powers. The rationale is that each work be defined by the significance of Eric’s time in his life journey through his art. 

Two aspects of the museum policy in particular have the greatest impact on changing the Eric Kelly collection: an expansion of vision to encompass world history and a new focus on building the collection through making yearly collection with key subjects and themes. The Eric Kelly collection today consists of about 2,550 works that not only epitomize Eric art making periods and movements, but also touch his high points of aesthetic beauty and historical importance. 


                                                                                                                                                                                                                   By: Jim Fields UBP TV Networks

THE ERIC KELLY III MUSEUM 1982 to present 

•When artist Eric Kelly III decided to open an art museum based on his own art and designs but with little capital, everyone thought he was crazy.  "No one gave me a million dollars," Eric Kelly III says from an art museum he designed.   "How do you do this with no money?"

•A million dollars is certainly helpful when starting any business, especially a museum name after an artist.  But if you want to be one of the first African American to create a museums and don't have that kind of money, it helps to have the mind of both a visionary and an artist, creative talent, an indelible work ethic, and a pedigree inherited from a family that was an integral part of  Durham’s culture. Not to mention connections with a grandmother and great grandfather who believes in your work. 

•Art is a personal and cultural phenomenon, which now and then motivates some people to express some of their ideas in a variety of shapes and ways. Some people create art to communicate something; others do it to express something; others, to avoid something from being understood but still express it. Motivations are so varied as art itself. Art flows between love and hate, admiration and denouncement, pleasure and pain... you name it, there is art for it and art against it. Yet there are not museums dedicated to the tremendous amount of artist that make art in the African American cultural! American popular art owes a lot-in some respects, nearly everything-to African Americans. Therefore, it may be surprising to learn that there are no other African-American museum named after a specific African American artist surprising, of course, until one considers that the extraordinary amounts of capital necessary to start such a museum were long denied to generations of African Americans. "As long as you're singing, drawing and dancing, that's your lane," Kelly says. "You try to get over to the museum side of it, things change." But Kelly has made it into the other lane: His museum has been visited, praised, and plugged by collectors who stop by with golden invitation sent out by the artist after collector are vetted by his staff.  Just this month, his museums were featured in the Carolina Time’s newspaper.

•Given that litany of successes, then, what ends up being more surprising than the fact of Kelly's singular status as a museum dedicated to his art?  It is this fact that it takes two hours into our conversation for me to register that Kelly has only been the owner of his eponymous museums for more than forty years. The calculation occurs sometime between him saying that his first museum was started (at no profit) in 1982, and him telling me of his current goal to get one of his museum’s collections into the Obama museum. "From a 'first' to a 'first,'" Kelly says with a grin.  We are in his pristine Durham home in suburban North Carolina., in a room occupied by more than three hundred painting and drawing at the art museum, with the brand name Eric Kelly III emblazoned on the side in big, gold block letters out front. The floor-length curtains in his cafe are midnight black, and the wallpaper are his art masterpieces’ and in his studio are lined with empty canvas ready to be immortalized with another portrait.  When I comment that he must love the color-in the driveway is a Mercedes, also black-he pauses before cracking up and clapping his hands together: "You know, I never noticed that!"  In another room, there is an art studio, paintbrushes and easels, canvasses, a sculptures and line drawings everywhere. Next to the paints is an easel displaying large canvases.   Eric comes from a family of artisans, and is an artist and performer for decades before moving into the world of museum ownership. Seated in the museum, he demonstrates how the colors and the ideas painted on the custom easels he designed. His boxy, gold watch the size of a small cabinet bounces around as his hands fly across the canvas. It is easy to forget that his primary media of choice is pastels and he point out that he enjoys acrylics because of the old masters.

•Besides being an artist, and working a daytime advertising agency job for years, Kelly's great grandfather was  "My father would just stand there and laugh and grin because that was the only thing he could do," he says. Kelly says, his great grandfather had to complete his ideas of being an artist and to sell to collectors’ only.  Kelly begins laughing so hard at his grandfather's tenacity that he cannot talk for a few seconds, smacking the table in time with his breaths.

•Kelly attributes his strong work ethic to his great grandfather and grandmother. "Five o'clock in the morning, I'd hear him in the house walking and planning his day," Kelly says. "His grandmother would work around the clock to make sure he wanted for nothing, if they did all that, then who am I to slack?"  Kelly's eager, youthful face beams as he recounts all the artists he got to see and make art of portraits of... the list went on.  However, Kelly is perhaps most excited when he is showing me the object of his making: The Eric Kelly III Museum, Then he talks about his vision of his interactive museum idea. It has touchscreens and cameras that can enable cross-continent lessons, or long-distance track recording allowing an artist to record in real time with an artist who is in a different location. The interactive Kelly museum has been a vision being used both by professionals and by art therapists, especially for autistic children who might initially be curious about art. 

•Kelly is full of stories, and is eager to tell them all, with a born storyteller's flair for dramatic pauses, expressive eyes, and detailed dialogue. He routinely bursts into laughter describing his own experiences, from the funny-his summer job as a young teenager was drawing in the house late at night ("I was mesmerized!")-to the frustrating, like when, he says, he met, one after the other, artist who would never help him to create a museum because he wanted to name it after his art.   

•So instead of waiting around for someone to create an art museum featuring his artwork, he created it and now the rest is history! Nevertheless, Kelly seems to take the challenges for all that they are including, along with the slights, opportunities to learn, and to have good stories to tell.  Speaking of his unique status in the world of museum and art, Kelly says, "If I'm one of the first one, there's a reason. There is a higher calling to this. The little things that you win-they are small wins, but they keep you going. There have been a whole lot of small little wins.“

• I ask him what a big win is. Another huge museum dedicated to him and recognized worldwide? No, that was a small win, he says.  Would a Eric Kelly III museum dedicated to you as a national treasure count as a big one?  Kelly shakes his head. When it comes to winning large he is thinking of the potential of black artist museums dedicated to the art of so many African America artist who paved the way for him to make art, he says. "Even though there's some things that seem like they're huge," he says, sitting in an art museum that bear his name, "for me, I'm still not at the finish line. I can name a few artist living and gone on to our ancestor who deserve a museum dedicated to them. I always wonder as an African American why aren’t their museums dedicated to our great artist for our people to see, visit and to understand what was in the minds of these great genius who spent there time making art. Why do other cultural celebrate their artist and our cultural have there work in a handful of cultural museums.  Then like an encyclopedia or a news reporter he exclaims     The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) announced that there are 35,144 museums in the U.S   IMLS Director Susan H., at the annual conference of the American Alliance of Museums, the nation’s largest annual gathering of museum professionals.  She said, “Americans love their museums. Museums of all types—35,000 strong— are a vital part of the American cultural and educational landscape. They are places where Americans go to pursue the discovery of art, history, science, technology, and the natural world. With 16,880 historical societies and historic preservation organizations alone, we can see that the preservation of history and culture is a passion that starts at the grassroots level. “Museums in America are powerful drivers of educational, economic, and social change and growth in their communities. As stewards of our collective cultural heritage, they provide the rich, authentic content for a nation of learners. Museums respond to the needs of their communities and are recognized as anchor institutions. They are valued not only for their collections and programs but as safe, trusted places that support the ideals of our democratic society. Now after all the research and eloquent statements by museum researchers, I ask how many museums are dedecarted to specific a African American artist.  NONE!!!  

•African American Museums in the United States primary focus is on African American culture and history. Such museums are commonly known as African American cultural museums.  According to scholar Raymond Doswell, an African American museum is "an institution established for the preservation of African-derived culture."  Museums have a mission of "collecting and preserving material on history and cultural heritage." African American museums share these goals with archives, genealogy groups, historical societies, and research libraries. Museums differ from archives, genealogy groups, historical societies, memorials, and research libraries because they have as a basic educational or aesthetic purpose the collection and display of objects, and regular exhibitions for the public.  Being open to the public (not just researchers or by appointment) and having regular hours sets museums apart from historical sites or other facilities that may call themselves museums.  As I have done the research, African American museums are defined as cultural museums not museums dedicated to the great artist who make work.  We can talk politic, war, civilization, money, business, but when it comes to African American great masters we some how we get lost in the idea that there should be museums erected and dedicated to our work. Our work is more than culture it our life's journey. Out of about the one hundred seventeen African American museums and none of them with the names of any of our great masters, now there's something dreadfully wrong with this picture in history. We must change this because the legacy of our art contribution will surly be lost in time.

•Our breath of work can not be contained in the few cultural museums that exist to today. I want to see art museums dedicated to the great masters of African American artist for the world to experience“  Then he ends our interview with his famous quote” Remember, What you are looking for is looking for you!”  

•Welcome to the Eric Kelly III Museum’s Collections Through this book, you will be able to fully explore the objects, documents, artworks and photographs from our collection of more than 5,000 objects that are not currently on exhibit. Our collections tell the story of an African American Artist Eric Kelly III using objects dating from 1964 up to the present day.  All objects are acquired generously donated by Eric Kelly III to our community.

•The digitization project is active and new objects are published online regularly, please check our website to continue your exploration

As African American Artists our breath of work can not be contained in the few cultural museums that exist to today. Out of one hundred and seventeen African American museums in this country and none of them dedicated to name of any of our great masters, now there's something dreadfully wrong with that picture in our history!

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