Inaugural Address, November 24, 1995
Vollis Simpson's Whirligig dedicated to "Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness"
by AVAM Founder & Director, Rebecca Alban Hoffberger
The American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) opens to the public on Friday, November 24th, the day after American Thanksgiving, 1995. Just as that original Thanksgiving was characterized by a peaceful encounter and joyous sharing with the new on both sides, the American Visionary Art Museum opens its doors of perception not in an effort to make war on academic or institutionalized learning, but to create a place where the best of self-taught, intuitive contributions of all kinds will be duly recognized, explored, and then championed in a clear strong voice.
We open with a true sense of our own thanksgiving for more than ten years of dreaming and planning; six years of a successful all-volunteer $7 million fundraising campaign aimed at opening our doors to you debt-free; and two years of complex construction and extensive environmental clean-up at our fantastic Baltimore Inner Harbor site, on land generously provided by The City of Baltimore. We have been truly blessed!
Imagine this magical spot—our east-facing sliver of white sand set between the earth of historic Federal Hill and the waters of the Baltimore Bay—back in its primordial days as raw forest, such as it must have been back in the time when Europeans first set foot on this shore. Of then, it is said that the trees were so incredibly dense "that any squirrel so choosing, could have hopped continuously from tree to tree, never stopping to touch ground, all the way from right here in Maryland on through to the prairie lands of the Mississippi Valley." Imagine for a moment just how rich and sweet that pre-Colonial air must have smelled, so thoroughly oxygenated by all those mighty oaks and other indigenous American trees which together constituted original, old growth North American forest—a virgin forest—lost now for all time to subsequent newer and punier, far less majestic, growth.
When those early Europeans arrived on this tree-covered land, they encountered Native American peoples, many of whom had already evolved a culture based both on a profound reverence for nature and in a belief of the sacredness of obtaining personal vision. This quest for personal revelation was seen as central to both the individual's and to the community's well-being. Culturalized, often ritualized, vision quest conveyed a deep communal belief in the value and uniqueness of each tribal member's life, as well as in the relationships between each human being and all of creation. Nature in all its manifestations—animals, insects, plants, rocks, weather, trees—afforded varied teaching perspectives to those quiet enough to listen. Nature and mankind were bound together by the dynamic symbol of The Tree of Life.
It is our hope that in our presentation to you of our inaugural exhibition, The Tree of Life, that you too will be inspired to become more open, more sure-footed in your own efforts to explore and discover your own life's unique possibilities, while being ever more sensitized to the bounty and lessons afforded by nature to help us on our way. We anxiously await the inspired new harvest and the excitement of taking these very first steps of our dance together with you and all who enter our doors!
—Rebecca Alban Hoffberger