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Native American Studies Center expands its art gallery

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USCL center receives anonymous donation of Catawba Indian artwork

By Nita Brown

The Native American Studies Center expanded its art gallery just before Christmas with a gift made possible through an anonymous donor. Catawba Indian Chief and subject of many Catawba creations, King Haigler, rules once again in clay in a still-life painting by Greenville artist, Nancy Biggs Thomas.

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Center Curator Brittany Taylor said the work was excellent, with vibrant complementary colors highlighting two traditional King Haigler pots.

She was delighted to welcome Thomas’s work to the Center’s collection.

“I have a feeling it will end up in the front gallery,” she said.

The pastel painting was part of a collection of Thomas’ work featured in an art show given for her by friends in Rock Hill last October. It piqued the interest of some of the show’s guests from Lancaster.

One guest contacted the Native American Studies Center about the work, and arranged for the donation, upon approval and acceptance by the Center.

Growing up in Rock Hill, with family ties to Lancaster, Thomas graduated in 1967 from Winthrop College, majoring in art and education. In 1984, she completed her master of science in textiles.
She also studied classical realism with fresco artist Ben Long at the Fine Arts League of Asheville. Long is perhaps best-known for his work for Bank of America.

In the mid-1970’s, she worked as an apprentice in Seagrove, a well-known pottery “Mecca,” where she became skilled at wheel-thrown pots.

Still, she retained her strong love for art and hand-built pottery, particularly Catawba Indian pottery, which had been a fixture in her family since childhood.

“We grew up with Catawba pots purchased or bartered from native Catawbas,” she said.

As a teenager, her fascination with Catawba pottery developed into an educational relationship with master potter, Earl Robbins.

She often worked with Robbins and his wife, Viola Robbins, learning the craft from beginning to completion.

The “trigger” for the painting’s creation came years later, when Thomas discovered an old, partially-deteriorated King Haigler pot beneath the family home in Rock Hill.

Ultimately, it became the “co-star” of the painting, along with a newer King Haigler pot.

“King Haigler is an epic hero for me with regard to our upcountry history,” Thomas said.

In a sense, her art has come full circle from all her wanderings.

The show in Rock Hill was held in the house next-door to Thomas’ childhood home.

The painting is dedicated to her mother, Nancy Craig Thomas, now 93, who was present at its presentation to the Center.

Thomas now lives in Greenville with her husband, Charlie Wofford, and continues her art and pottery work.