More than 100 artists are preparing to set up their tents for the Sidewalk Art Show in downtown Roanoke, a tradition stewarded by the Taubman Museum of Art that’s 61 years old this year.

Roanoke artist and author Barbara Dickinson, 86, had no way of knowing that when she suggested that the Roanoke Fine Arts Center (the organization that eventually became the Taubman Museum) put together an outdoor art display similar to one she had seen in Alexandria, she was planting the seeds of a permanent Roanoke tradition.

At that time, Dickinson worked at the fine arts center, in the late 1950s, and the future Taubman Museum resided in a former church on Carolina Avenue Southwest. “Our gallery was in the basement of the Roanoke public library,” she said.

“We decided on two days in June,” she said. “We put big flats up on the terrace of the library. We couldn’t have had more than eight. A strong wind would come along and just blow them over.”

About 30 artists exhibited that year, she recalled. Despite wind damage to the glass in some of the frames, “it was a great success. There was not a lot of downtown traffic, but of course the artists came to see what it was all about,” and brought friends, she said. “It all sort of worked out.”

Later, when the show had incorporated crafts and expanded to fill Elmwood Park, she noticed a woman painting small watercolors on leftover matte scraps. That artist went on to become world-famous. “I bought six or seven P. Buckley Moss [originals] at $2, $3, $4 apiece. She was just sort of getting started,” Dickinson said. “She was sitting there doing her unique little characters.”

Waynesboro-based Moss hadn’t yet begun offering her work as prints, a business move that would eventually make her a multi-millionaire. “Dumb me, I gave two or three of them away as baby presents,” Dickinson said with a laugh.

From its humble beginning, the show was well received, she said. “I can remember the first year, the blood, sweat and toil of putting up posters, getting it known,” she said. “It grew every year, and now I think it’s one of the most exciting things that Roanoke does.”

Mike Allen writes the Arts & Extras column for The Roanoke Times. The beat he covers includes visual art, classical music, opera, theater, dance, literature, museums and other arts and cultural nonprofits, and things even more eclectic.

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