Scholarship in Moody’s name helping keep local art alive

Posted 5/17/19

SILER CITY — When Mary Helen Moody got married and left her hometown of Raleigh to start a new chapter of her life in Siler City, the local arts scene then wasn’t what it is today.

The year …

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Scholarship in Moody’s name helping keep local art alive

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SILER CITY — When Mary Helen Moody got married and left her hometown of Raleigh to start a new chapter of her life in Siler City, the local arts scene then wasn’t what it is today.

The year was 1965 and downtown Siler City’s N.C. Arts Incubator and its many ancillary tie-ins — murals adorning the sides of numerous buildings, public phones re-purposed as pieces of art, metal sculptures here and there, galleries and shops displaying and selling the works of local talent — were decades in the future.

She couldn’t have known it then, but Moody — a graduate of N.C. State and newly-married to Jack A. Moody, an attorney who would go on to serve in the North Carolina Legislature — would herself play a significant role in her new community’s arts-centric development.

“There wasn’t an arts scene,” Moody recalled of her initial experience here, 53 years ago.

It wasn’t that the region was bereft of talented people, she said.

“There were individuals who were very interested in the arts,” Moody said. “But nothing was established.”

As an oil painter, Moody gravitated towards others who shared her interest in artistic expression, signing up to take the only local art class offered at the time, a drawing course.

“I was the only girl in the class,” she said. “We had to draw a bottle.”

She met other like-minded folks, people like Helen Buckner and the late Peggy Almond Fullington, with whom she shared a love for the arts.

It was in the 19902 that an effort to organize the region’s burgeoning arts scene really got under way, and Moody was there for it.

“It really started with Leon Tongret,” said Moody. “He was director of the small business department at Central Carolina Community College. Leon had a dream.”

Beginning in the late 1990s, Tongret saw an opportunity in Chatham County, which was home to many artists, and began working with CCCC and the Town of Siler City to establish an incubator to help the arts scene grow and to promote arts-based economic development.

The N.C. Arts Incubator was born of this effort, with Tongret overseeing the renovation of three downtown buildings for the purpose. Tongret, who later moved on to other pursuits, got the operation up and running and by 2002 the new endeavor was going strong, providing space and help for artists working in a wide variety of media: paint, pottery, clay, metal. One of the incubator’s initial tenants, world-renowned guitar-maker Terry McInturff, is still operating from the downtown space.

Moody was also among the first artists to establish a studio in the new incubator.

In 2008, she was involved in the establishment of the Incubator’s PAF Gallery, named in honor of her friend, Peggy Almond Fullington.

“As a volunteer, I was in charge of finding artists to bring their shows there,” Moody said. “I didn’t do it by myself. I had help. I had good volunteers.”

These days, with the local art scene far more evolved than it was 53 years ago, Moody sees the continuing benefits to the community — economic and culturally — of the work she and other art pioneers have done.

“I see a lot of growth here. In the last two years, three art shops have opened, in addition to the Oasis downtown,” she said. “And I see a lot more potential.”

Though she’s scaled back her involvement in the incubator in recent years, she’s still very much immersed in local arts.

A mother of three sons and a grandmother to four granddaughters, Moody, on any given day, is more likely to be found in her kitchen with her grandchildren, conjuring up an interesting culinary creation like a peanut butter and pimento cheese sandwich, than wielding a paintbrush.

But her impact on local arts is still present. The most high-profile example is the annual Mary Helen Moody Art Scholarship, given to local graduating high school seniors planning to study art at a 2- or 4-year college after a panel of judges determines a recipient.

The scholarship was established by some of Moody’s artist friends. The first scholarship given in her name — in the amount of $500 — was awarded in the fall of 2012.

“We’ve been able to give one every year,” she said.

This year, Incubator artist Jake Brower will receive the $1,000 Mary Helen Moody scholarship to take a course this summer at the Penland School of Craft in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A second scholarship will also be awarded to a high school artist who has not yet been named. There are many talented young artists worthy of the award, Moody said.

“There are some really good artists in our schools,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard to decide.”

As to the value of art in general, Moody said “it just opens up your eyes. Art can take us to a different world, to see things differently.”

Entries from local high school artists for this year’s Mary Helen Moody Art Scholarship will be on display in the Arts Incubator’s PAF Gallery, 223 N. Chatham Ave., from 6 to 8 p.m. May 17, when the Incubator debuts a show by local sculptor Syd Ginsberg.

Click here to learn more about Syd Ginsberg's art showing.

Randall Rigsbee can be reached at rigsbee@chathamnr.com.

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