ETSU unveils its Nicely collection | New

JOHNSON CITY – The Reece Museum at East Tennessee State University recently received a donation of 50 works of art from the Sammie L. Nicely estate.

Nicely, an Atlanta resident at the time of his death, was Reece Museum’s Artist in Residence during the 2014-2015 academic year. That year, he worked with youth at Johnson City‘s North Side Elementary School, the Carver Recreation Center after-school program, and students from the ETSU Art and Design Department.

Nicely also organized two exhibitions for the museum in 2015: “EXUBERANCE! Kids Make Art on Art ”and“ From an African American Perspective, ”which included artwork from the collections of Jan and Sylvia Peters, Knoxville, Tennessee; Dr Jerome Wright, Savannah, Georgia; and Nicely’s personal collection of African and African American art. Most of the artwork donated by Sammie L. Nicely was first seen locally in “From an African American Perspective”.

The offered collection includes works by renowned artists such as Bessie Harvey, Mose Tolliver, Lonnie Holley and John Preble. The collection also includes works by unknown artisans and artists purchased by Nicely during her travels in Africa and the Caribbean. Materials depicted include acrylic and oil paints, prints, metal and wood sculpture, mixed media, glass, ceramics, beaded fabric, and stone.

The executor, describing Nicely’s collection, said: “Even growing up, coming home. . . it was always like coming to a mini-museum. Even the children (the children of the executor), when they grew up and came to Uncle Sammie’s, saw it as a mini-museum / playground. They had their favorite pieces, and like I did. Said it was just a playground for them, and they really enjoyed it.

Born in 1947 in Russellville, Tennessee, Nicely developed a love for the arts from an early age. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University with a BS in Arts Education, he pursued graduate studies in sculpture at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg. As the co-founder of the From Africa to Appalachia Foundation, Nicely embraced his cultural heritage as an African American from the Appalachians.

“We are very grateful to Sammie Nicely and the Nicely family for their generous donation,” said Ron Roach, director of the Center of Excellence for Appalachian Studies and Services. “This collection is an exceptional addition to the Reece Museum and will allow these works to be enjoyed for generations to come. It will also help us highlight the important role of African American artists in our region, which has too often been overlooked in the past.

Asked about the importance of the Sammie L. Nicely Collection to the Reece Museum, Collections Manager Becca Proffitt said: “This eclectic and diverse collection of works reflects the talents and eye for beauty of Mr. Nicely in as a collector and artist. The pieces in this collection will contribute to his personal mission of providing the campus community with educational opportunities that explore, as Mr. Nicely said, ‘. . . how the African-American artist fits into the American (artistic) landscape. We hope that sharing his collection with the public will be a rewarding experience for everyone. “

The Reece Museum, located in the Appalachian Studies Department of ETSU, is a unit of the Center of Excellence for Appalachian Studies and Services, which resides in the same department. The museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

To learn more about the Sammie L. Nicely collection, call 423-439-4392. For more information on current and upcoming exhibitions, visit

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