Jim Hoobler, Curator of Art and Architecture at the Tennessee State Museum

Jim Hoobler, who is retiring at the end of June, has been senior curator of art and architecture at the Tennessee State Museum since 1991.

For more than 45 years, Hoobler, 69, has preserved, restored, and showcased local and state history through his work on the Tennessee Historical Society, Metro Historical Commission, Nashville City Cemetery Commission, and Tennessee Art League, as well as the State Museum.

Additionally, he served as Chief Consultant for Decorative and Fine Arts to the Executive Mansion, and Curator of the State Capitol, and is a prolific author and editor of books and articles on art and design. story.

Tennessee State Museum Chief Curator and Director of Collections Dan Pomeroy described Hoobler as “the perfect man in the perfect place many times over.”

We asked Hoobler to talk about his career and some of the highlights.

Q: How did you decide to pursue your career in art and history?

A: I fell in love with history and art very early on. In high school in Atlanta, my church took us through career counseling in our freshman year. They told me I should be a museum curator.

Q: I know you were instrumental in the restoration and preservation of the Tennessee State Capitol, the Downtown Presbyterian Church, the City Cemetery, and Carnton. Tell us a bit about these projects.

A: I had worked around the Capitol since 1975, and in the mid-1980s I noticed structural deterioration. At that time, I was the director of the Tennessee Historical Society. The House and Senate finance chairs were members and they loved our Capitol and our history. I reported the deterioration and asked them to fund a restoration. They took this to Governor (Lamar) Alexander, and he set up a Capitol Restoration Commission. Since then, I have been their adviser.

the Downtown Presbyterian Churchlike our Capitol, is a William Strickland building. I also saw that it needed restoration, and Ridley Wills ran a fundraising campaign for projects I had planned on stabilizing and restoring the structure and interior finishes. It is a national monument and the finest surviving example of Egyptian Revival architecture.

city ​​cemetery is our city’s outdoor history class. Our town’s founders, educators, ministers, slaves, the Fisk Jubilee Singers, the man who named the flag “Old Glory” are all buried there. I’ve been on this board for many years, and we do an annual living history tour there.

I saw for the first time Cardboard in 1975. A sharecropper lived there at the time and the owner was retired in Florida. I tracked down the owner and got permission to take (a battlefield tour group) there. There I discovered that the roof had a big hole and part of a room had collapsed. I called the owner, described the condition I had found, and suggested that he could get a large tax deduction if he donated it to a tax-exempt preservation group. It is now a beautiful house-museum.

Q: What other buildings in the Nashville area are in dire need of preservation?

A: Currently, Music Row is our most endangered historic area. Dozens of buildings with fascinating music industry histories have been razed recently. We need to better respect our history and celebrate what attracts the most tourists to Nashville by preserving that history.

Q: I know you know the State Capitol intimately. Please share some of the most intriguing facts about it.

A: Our Capitol is one of the few pre-Civil War state capitals that is still in use and nearly all of whose constitutional officers, governor, and legislature are still working. This is where African American male suffrage and female suffrage were ratified. It is therefore a monument to the right to vote.

Q: The State Museum claims the largest collection of public art in the state and I know you were responsible for finding and purchasing much of the collection. What percentage of the entire collection is on display at any given time? What are some of your favorite pieces?

A: There are approximately 9,000 pieces of decorative art and state-owned art. Of this, about 2,000 are paintings. Currently, there is about 1% to 2% of the collection on display. It’s frustrating, but that’s the pattern for most museums. The hope is that with adequate staff, the collection can be renewed frequently.

(Two of his favorites are a “very significant” painting of the Cherokee settlement of Toqua, which is the only 18th-century view of a Native American settlement made from sketches on location and then copied into a painting. Fritzi’s painting Brod “Near Gatlinburg” is another favorite.)

Q: What is the strangest object in the collection? And what is the oldest object in the collection?

A: The strangest object in the collection is John Murrell’s thumb. Some of the fossils are certainly our oldest objects. One of my favorites is a horseshoe crab fossil from Tennessee.

Q: The State Museum is known for its extensive Civil War collections. With recent developments regarding civil rights issues and the growing controversy over Confederate statues, how do you think the museum’s Civil War collection will change?

A: The Civil War collections are among the most extensive in the nation, by state. We have changed our representation of war over the years, and change is a constant. I’m sure the interpretations will continue to evolve. We now have more African American voices interpreting their history, and those voices will bring changes, I’m sure, to the way the past plays out in the present.

Q: For people who have not been to the National Museum, what should they absolutely not miss when visiting?

A: My favorite areas of collecting are, of course, decorative pieces and fine art. The public has always enjoyed the exhibits on Native Americans, frontiers, and the Civil War.

Q: Historical photos have been a big part of your collection. Can you talk about them and why they are so valuable for future historians?

A: Historical photographs are documents that show us our past. I used the Giers photographs of the interior of the Capitol as a guide for the restoration of these spaces. They also document our now destroyed buildings in Nashville and across Tennessee. They show the actual appearance of the individual – not an artist’s rendering, which has sometimes been created to flatter. I love the history of photography and have written several books on it.

Q: Since this is the state museum, is Elvis there?

A: Well, Elvis definitely hasn’t left our building. We have a number of items relating to him ranging from a guitar to records, movie posters, theater lobby cards, a TCB pendant, photographs, paintings and many other items.

Q: What are your retirement plans?

A: I have a new book contract, and soon I will be working on the history of Nashville as it is reflected in our built environment – a look then and now at what was built here, how it was first used and how it is used now. I still sit on the board of the Metro Historical Commission. I’m still active at the Downtown Presbyterian Church, and we’re looking at revamping our art collection there and doing some new stuff in our church history room. the City Cemetery Association is always an active interest. I also look forward to doing more trips now.

Contact Ms. Cheap at 615-259-8282 or [email protected]. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/mscheapand at Tennessean.com/mscheap, and on Twitter @Ms_Cheapand find her every Thursday at 11 a.m. on WTVF-Channel 5’s “Talk of the Town”.

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