Story By Kendyl Hollingsworth
Photos Contributed By The Comer Museum
There’s just something about beholding an artifact or admiring a masterpiece that can bring about a feeling like no other.
Art and history have a way of touching hearts, inspiring minds and connecting generations. The Comer Museum & Arts Center in Sylacauga, Alabama, combines the two in a continuous celebration of the town’s treasures — both past and present.
For Judy Green, executive director and curator of the museum, walking through the doors each day is a chance to learn something new and to share that knowledge with others.
“Even though I’ve learned so much since I’ve been here, I’ve learned just about something every day,” Green said. “But … I just feel when I walk in in the morning that it’s going to be a day of interest. … I absolutely love it.”
Green, a Nebraska native, said her military husband was born and raised in Sylacauga. Green said she had always enjoyed hearing stories about the town from her father-in-law, so after she and her husband decided to move back to his hometown about 25 years ago, they were able to experience more of the magic Sylacauga offers even today.
The Comer Museum & Arts Center was named for Isabel Anderson Comer, who spearheaded efforts to convert the old B.B. Comer Library into an art museum in the early 1980s. It was dedicated in 1982 and named for Isabel shortly after her death in 1985. Today, Green describes the museum as a “treasure box,” boasting a wide variety of exhibits and a permanent art collection, as well as a gallery that changes monthly.
The opportunity to serve in the museum was one that kind of “fell into my lap” in early 2022, Green said. She took the helm at the beginning of February, just about three weeks before her father-in-law passed away.
“I listened to all the stories of my father-in-law about growing up here when he was little and all the experiences he had, and everything Sylacauga has to offer,” she recalled. “… I say I kind of walk in his steps because if he was here, he’d be right here beside me.”
The museum has three floors chock-full of artifacts and artwork from the area, celebrating the people, places and things of yesteryear while also showcasing the artistic talents of locals today.
The museum’s lower level contains memorabilia from Avondale Mills, which used to be one of Sylacauga’s biggest employers.
“Avondale Mills’ home office was here and basically kind of grew the town between marble and Avondale Mills,” Green explained. “B.B. Comer in 1897 opened Avondale Mills up, and it just kind of grew from there and became the mill that it was back in the heyday. Of course, they’ve been closed since 2007, but it still was a big movement in Sylacauga.”
Also on the lower level, visitors can enjoy a “fashion parlor” with clothes dating back to the 1920s, as well as different rooms dedicated to the city’s schools.
According to Green, the main level’s exhibits focus on archaeology, marble and Sylacauga in general.
“We’re famous for marble because it’s the whitest marble in the world,” she said.
The museum’s third level has a room dedicated to Jim Nabors, the late American actor widely known for playing Gomer Pyle on “The Andy Griffith Show.” The Sylacauga native was also an accomplished singer and comedian.
The Comer Museum hosted a birthday celebration in honor of Nabors’ 93rd birthday this past June. Fans near and far sent in cards, visited the museum, ate cake and ice cream, played trivia games and enjoyed screenings of his work. Nabors’ cousin even blew out the candles on the cake that day, Green added.It’s an event the Comer Museum hopes to host year after year.
The museum’s Facebook page also received plenty of comments voicing their appreciation of Nabors and excitement for his birthday celebration.
“You are certainly the keeper of Jim Nabors history and preserving the local culture of Sylacauga,” wrote Sarah Rose Gulino-Waller. “I believe your wonderful museum will continue to teach us about the past and provide educational opportunities for the general public.”
The third level also houses plenty of military memorabilia, with ties to the area, from as far back as the Civil War.
Another event the Comer Museum & Arts Center hosts is an annual car and bike show held each March. It’s a staple of a community fundraiser that also features vendors, food and music. While the museum is mostly funded by the city, Green said, proceeds from this event support the cost of running the museum and keeping the facilities in good shape.
Another favorite component of the museum is its rotating gallery that showcases the work of a different local artist each month. In August, the museum hosted its first pop art exhibit, featuring the work of local family man Doug Shoemaker. His art often features characters and scenes from popular children’s media, such as classic comic books and Disney movies.
Each time there’s a new artist showcase, the museum hosts a free reception for visitors to come and meet the artist. It may even be someone visitors already know, as the gallery tends to keep its spotlight on local talent.
“What a great museum! So involved with the community!” wrote Brenda Parker on Facebook. “Sylacauga is blessed for sure.”
Green said there’s something for everyone at the museum — regardless of age or interest.
“You can get a young child in here, and they’re just so fascinated with arrowheads, and so many different things,” she said. “… We also have the replica from … the Hodges meteorite. … It’s really funny when the kids come in … and then I’ll take them into the archaeology room with the meteorite, and I’ll say, ‘Have you ever seen a real meteorite?’ And they’ll go, ‘No!’ and they’ll get really excited. ‘Well, you’re not going to see one today either.’ So they just kind of laugh it off, but they’re really intrigued with the pictures and looking at it and reading about it.
“It’s fun to see their faces light up, and you know, [I] say, ‘Hey, yeah, I’ve made an impact on this child,’ you know? So, it’s really interesting.”
The Comer Museum & Arts Center is located at 711 N. Broadway Ave., next to Sylacauga High School. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free for all.
For more information on the Comer Museum & Arts Center, as well as upcoming events and exhibits, call 256-245-4016 or go to www.iacmuseum.com or www.facebook.com/comermuseum.