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Gift of art

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By Marion P. Blackburn

The art of giving is a life’s work for sculptor Dwight M. Holland.

A founding designer for the North Carolina Zoo, he also developed college and public school art programs during his many years as a teacher in North Carolina.

At 71, he remains a consultant to zoos throughout the U.S.

He has recently capped a lifetime of service by bequeathing his entire collection of pottery to the School of Art and Design at East Carolina University in Greenville.

No sealed cases will house the collection, though.

Holland wants the pots to be handled, examined and studied by art students without the usual “do not touch” restrictions.

The Dwight M. Holland Teaching Collection is available for viewing online, and about 200 pieces are available to ceramics students already.  The rest of the collection of about 1,500 pots is in his home, and he plans to give another 100 or more pots to the school this spring.

In accepting the bequest the school agreed not to sell the collection and to open it for student use.

“As a teaching collection, students ought to be able to handle them,” Holland says. “ECU is not in a large cultural and urban area.  The students are not surrounded by a lot of pots.  If you’re going to study pottery, you need to handle and study some good pots, to see how other people do things.”

Holland began teaching in Randolph County in the 1950s after completing a fine arts degree in sculpture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In 1967, he joined Randolph Community College, where he instituted programs in art and design, including the school’s photography program, one of the first of its kind in the southeast.

He also was invited to develop an arts program for the state’s new system of community colleges.

In 1976, he was instrumental in bringing the North Carolina Zoo to Asheboro and served as its curator of design.

He retired from the zoo in 1990, but returned as interim director in 1993.

Dwight M. Holland

Lives: Asheboro, N.C.

Born: July 9, 1933

Job: Consultant to zoos, nature centers

Former jobs:  Curator of design and interim director, North Carolina Zoo; chairman, department of art and design. Randolph Community College; arts supervisor, Asheboro City Schools

Education: UNC-Chapel Hill, B.A., sculpture and art education, 1954

Hobbies:  Pot collecting, gardening

Favorite zoo animals:  Primates

Menagerie: Texas longhorns, Great Dane, several cats

While there, he developed a method of creating realistic artificial rocks from painted concrete that is now used in zoos in the U.S. and abroad.“When you look at rocks, they are made of a multitude of colors,” he says. “They have a life to them.”He still lives across the street from the zoo, where he tends several acres of lawn and gardens.

Charles Chamberlain, a sculptor and retired area coordinator of ceramics at ECU who has known Holland for years, applauds the bequest as a unique gift to students.

“No one is going to have a collection quite like this,” Chamberlain says.  “The breadth is so important, from folk potters to very well known contemporary ceramic artists,” he says. “He has an eye for collecting, because he works in clay himself.”

The pots, some wildly colorful, others earth toned, represent Holland’s other life’s work as a collector.

“If I had an extra dollar, I’d buy a pot,” Holland says.

The pieces come from all over the world, including the Baltics, Finland, China, Australia, France, England and Mexico.

The collection also features works from traditional North Carolina potters, many of whom are no longer living. Recorded interviews with some are also in the collection.

“His is a personal collection that represents a breadth of ways of working,” Chamberlain says.

Holland estimates his collection is worth $250,000 to $500,000.  Many pieces will continue to rise in value with time, he says.

His newest project is assisting the Rocky Mount Children’s Museum build alligator and python environments and a salt-water “touch tank” in its new location.

In addition, he is a contributor to the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina and the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Montana.

He is modest about his contributions, which he says are a “product of chance and happenstance.”

The ceramics collection will cap his informal mission of finding ways to use art for public good.

“I’m not getting any younger,” he says.  “I’ve enjoyed my pots. But if I’m not here, someone should be able to use them and not just sell them.”

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