Photographer Caroline Hickman Vaughan explains why she chose to give her life’s work and the gift of a lifetime to the Gregg Museum of Art & Design
More than a decade ago, photographer Caroline Hickman Vaughan, the Durham and North Carolina native, committed her life’s work to the Gregg Museum of Art & Design. In 2012, she made the gift of a lifetime by naming the Photographic Archives in the future permanent home of the Gregg Museum at the site of the historic chancellor’s residence on Hillsborough Street.
Caroline has devoted her whole self to her photography and is equally dedicated to seeing it preserved alongside the rest of the photographic treasures in the Gregg’s increasingly important collection. Along with her fellow photographer, mentor, and friend, the late John Menapace, Caroline was one of the first significant artists to pledge her photography collection and ephemera to the Gregg. The Gregg is immensely grateful to Caroline for choosing to support the Gregg with her art and with a major contribution to the Gregg Museum Campaign.
Caroline graduated from Duke University in 1971, after founding the university’s first fine art photography publication, in coaxing Minor White to Duke, and he accepted Caroline into his graduate seminar (the only one he taught, housed in MIT’s School of Architecture). Later, Caroline studied twice at the Penland School of Crafts, first with Murray Riss, and later with John Menapace. Ansel Adams admired Caroline’s photography and chose one of her images to serve as an advertisement for Polaroid in photography publication.
Why NC State?
After completing her studies at MIT, Caroline returned to North Carolina, where she worked for Dr. Stephen Wainwright (later to become Caroline’s “patron” and also a major contributor to the Gregg Campaign). She then worked for 25 years in Duke’s development office, while still pursuing her photography. Although Caroline is rooted in Durham and is a graduate and retired employee of Duke, she has had a long relationship with NC State as well. On December 20, 1973, Caroline received a letter from a professor of religion at NC State, who was a member of the Art Acquisitions Committee. (This committee was the predecessor of today’s Gregg Museum of Art & Design. At the time, NC State had a burgeoning, informal art collection scattered about campus, but did not yet have an art museum or gallery. The effort to catalog and preserve the university’s holdings in a more professional way eventually led to forming what is now the Gregg Museum.) The professor asked to buy a print of a photograph that he had seen at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Titled An LaBarre, Bonnie and Jody, the photograph depicted a hauntingly quiet scene of a barebacked white horse, a woman, and a dog distantly reflected in the still waters of a misty pond surrounded by dense woods.
Caroline was thrilled that he wanted the photograph and sold him the print for $100. The NC State professor had seen the photograph at the North Carolina Museum of Art because Caroline had entered it into a biennial contest at the museum that she described as “very high cotton.”
There was no category for photography then, and when Caroline’s mother drove her to drop off her submission, the guard who accepted it told her, “I hope your paintings win!” Caroline left without correcting him, jumped back in the car and said to her mother, “Gun it! They think they’re paintings!” Nevertheless, the three judges unanimously deemed Caroline’s An LaBarre, Bonnie and Jody the best in the “works on paper” category, and from then on the biennial contest had a category specifically designated for photography. Following the contest, Caroline took some evening courses in photography at NC State. In 1990, a female instructor in NC State’s College of Design asked Caroline to teach her introductory course in photography while she went on maternity leave. Caroline agreed and loved it.
Why give to NC State?
When Caroline recalls approaching the Gregg’s retired director, Charlotte Wainwright, about donating her all of her work to the museum, she remembers running the idea by her longtime friend and current Gregg Museum director, Roger Manley. She recollects that Roger was, “at the Gregg curating an exhibition for Charlotte on Annie Hooper. I called Roger and was very shy. I asked, ‘What would happen if I called Charlotte up and offered her my prints?’ Roger said she’d ‘jump up and down and do a jig!’ I talked to Charlotte and asked, ‘Would the Gregg be a repository for my photographs after I die?’ ‘Yes, we would be thrilled!’ Charlotte Wainwright replied.”
Working at Duke in development, Caroline learned the importance of philanthropy and made small gifts as she could to support Duke, the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, and art museums. The Caroline Hickman Vaughan Photographic Archives represents the largest financial gift of Caroline’s life. Caroline had never intentionally planned to make such a major gift in her lifetime, but decided that she wanted to give something of real significance to students while she was alive. She chose to give to NC State because she is a North Carolina native and because NC State is affordable, meaning that students without a lot of means can receive an excellent education. Caroline sees herself as pursuing equality with her gift, by enabling bright and deserving students to learn from firsthand encounters with original art.
The Gregg Museum of Art & Design is exceedingly fortunate that Caroline Hickman Vaughan has chosen to gift her life’s work and the gift of a lifetime to the Gregg and the campaign for its future. Her major gift will make possible a space where students and members of the greater community can gather and experience the photographs, negatives, writings, and other ephemera from Caroline’s collection and others’. The Photographic Archives will bear Caroline’s name in perpetuity, which is an apt tribute to an artist who helped establish the Gregg’s photography collection and then helped build its permanent home.
To learn more about the Campaign for the Gregg, visit newgregg.ncsu.edu or contact the Office of Arts Development at 919-513-1337.