Tuesday - Friday: 10:00 - 4:00
Saturday: 10:00 - 1:00
Sunday - Monday: Closed
is to enhance the quality of community life
by fostering broad participation in the visual and
|34 Melrose Avenue, Tryon, NC, 28782 Phone: 828-859-8322 Fax: 828-859-0271
The mission of
Tryon Fine Arts Center
is to enhance the quality
of community life by
participation in the visual
and performing arts.
Tryon resident Violet Parish Watson had been observing local arts and crafts organizations
meeting and exhibiting in nooks and crannies around town and the two performing arts
groups – Tryon Little Theater and Tryon Concert Association (nee Mutual Concert
Association) – scheduling plays and concerts in churches, schools, and other less-than-
ideal venues. Some years before her death, she invited the executors of her estate and
their spouses to dinner in her home for the express purpose of discussing a bequest she
had been contemplating. Banker and trust officer John G. Landrum, Jr. with his wife
Elizabeth and businessman Baxter M. Haynes with his wife Susie sat down to dine with their
Parish-Watson had envisioned a facility that would bring these groups under one roof
providing work and class space as well as a “civic auditorium” for plays, concerts, lectures,
films, demonstrations, meetings, and the like. She decided to leave $25,000 for the
organization of this venture – and subsequent construction of a facility – provided her gift
was matched within one year. She further stipulated that the gift could not be matched by
one large gift, but must be matched through public subscription of a broad scale which she
defined as at least 100 gifts. If this could not be accomplished in the specified period, the
executors were to disburse the $25,000 to St. Luke’s Hospital.
After her death, Landrum and Haynes were eager to meet the match. Because of the
deadline, there were concerns about the speed with which a new nonprofit could be
established and incorporated as well as questions about how quickly the funds could be
raised. Around that time, Tryon Little Theater, wanting a home of its own, had purchased a
barn on Harmon Field Road. They hoped to make their proposed facilities available to “other
cultural and art[s] groups in the community.” Taking this into account, Parish-Watson’s
executors approached Tryon Little Theater because its plans for “The Barn” had some of
the flavor of Violet’s slightly broader vision and was an existing 501(c)3 through which they
could run funding. This would give the new organization time to plan while providing
immediate tax deductibility for donations.
On September 3, 1964, representatives from Tryon Little Theater, Tryon Concert
Association, Tryon Crafts, the Tryon Chamber of Commerce, and three people at large met
at the home of TLT President Fanning Hearon. James Black agreed to chair the “Tryon Fine
Arts Center” fund drive. Parish-Watson’s bequest was more than matched in a month’s time!
About six months later, the directors of Tryon Little Theater voted to sell “The Barn” and
contribute these funds and other cash and pledges to the Tryon Fine Arts Center project.
As TLT President Fanning Hearon wrote in TFAC’s first season’s program, “We had lost our
‘First Love,’ but found another – not one we could touch and feel, but [one] with more
promise.” A TFAC project steering committee was named and more money was raised,
largely through the efforts of Landrum and Black who approached individuals willing to give
$10,000 each and become founders of Tryon Fine Arts Center. Representatives from all
affiliates as well as members of the community at large joined together with enthusiasm.
Ernst Benkert was hired as architect. Ground was broken on December 13, 1967. The
building was dedicated on February 2, 1969 and opened to the public the next day.
Soon after the building was completed, a garden at the back of the building was created and
dedicated to the memory of Portia Farwell by Arthur Farwell. The Gay Blades (now Green
Blades) Garden Club undertook a four-year beautification project, anchoring building to
ground by the planting and maintenance of shrubs, magnolia trees, azaleas and various
During the 1970s the only participation by the youth of the county was the summer musical,
the first being “Li’l Abner”, put on by the Tryon Youth Center in July of 1970. Over the years
these musicals, now produced under the direction of Tryon Little Theater, have given great
enjoyment to young and old alike and have acquainted many people with the TFAC facilities.
Starting in the 1980s more emphasis was placed on bringing children to the Center. In 1981
the Summer Art Series for Youth (SASY) began under the sponsorship of Tryon Painters &
Sculptors. This was a program for children. Instead of a summer camp, various classes in
art-related activities were offered over a period of several weeks. Funded partly by the NC
Arts Council and partly by private donations, this program was run by volunteers using the
TFAC facilities. This program later became part of The Upstairs Gallery. With changing
times and needs, and having served its purposes well, this program was closed in the late
Promotion of programs for the Tryon and Polk County high school students also evolved
throughout the 80s. Through them, the youth of the community were exposed to a wide
scope of cultural entertainment, from ballet and symphony to travelogues. Super Saturday,
though not a TFAC program, is now in its 23rd year. That fun day consisting of parades,
bands, entertainment and theater has brought thousands of young people and their parents
to the Tryon Fine Arts Center.
Expansion was the keynote of the 80's both in facilities and acreage. First to be added was
the Binks property adjacent to the Center, now known as the Arts Palette, or "Fred B.
Farwell Memorial Annex" given by his father, Arthur Farwell. The Tryon Painters and
Sculptors occupy the street level floor, and the Tryon crafts use the lower floor for Lapidary
In 1986, an impressive addition was made with the acquisition of the Terrano property,
extending property lines to Walnut Street on the north and the Baptist Church parking lot on
the east. There were three houses on this land. The one facing Melrose Avenue was razed
and a landscaped garden was created. In May of 1987 the corner was officially dedicated as
Sassoon Park, given by Stella Sassoon as a memorial to her husband, William Edward
Sassoon. The following year (1988), the first Tryon Fine Arts Center's Summer Social was
held with art exhibitions, music and entertainment offered for the enjoyment of picnickers on
May of 1987 marked another first with the exciting opening of one of the other houses, now
converted into the Cate-Hall Weaving Cottage, dedicated to Lucy Cate and Grace Hall who
had done so much to promote weaving in this area. Now the attractive rooms are filled with
looms and avid weavers.
In 1988 the last of the three buildings was refurbished on May 1st. The public was welcomed
to "Discovery House", dedicated to young people exploring the creative world and
“discovering” their talents. After five years of successfully fulfilling its mission and seeing
bright young children grow, Discovery House closed in 1993.
Following the acquisitions of the 1980s, the 1990s were a time of refurbishing and
enhancement. Many stage amenities were added to the auditorium, including improved
lighting, rigging and a new sound system. The lobby area was renovated and improvements
were made in the spaces utilized by many of the affiliates. Many enhancements were funded
by our new auxiliary, the Friends of the Fine Arts Center, established in 1994 and dedicated
to helping TFAC through fund raising and other supportive activities. The nineties were also
a time of financial review and augmentation. With an eye to the future, funds were
established to support future expansion and capital improvements. TFAC has been the
beneficiary of many generous supporters whose foresight and vision have secured for us
the financial stability we enjoy today.
The Tryon Fine Arts Center is not just a physical location, but a dynamic concept energized
by its many affiliated organizations. Although these have changed over the years, as the
needs of the community have changed, they are still at the heart of what is meant by TFAC,
an institution whose physical structure may change but whose mission remains the same:
"...to enhance the quality of community life through a broad participation in the performing
and visual arts."