The art that graces the walls of Old Main’s third floor on the campus of McMurry University has an interesting story. Accumulated over a number of years by various collectors, the items were first collected, restored, and exhibited by the McWhiney History Education Group in the R. Lee and Ann Rode Galley at the Buffalo Gap Historic Village. Amy Smith, a 2002 McMurry graduate, poured her passion into rescuing this remarkable collection of paintings that tell the unique story of this part of West Texas. Curatorial framing was provided by Linda Strickland—a former art professor at McMurry University—with an eye to preserving this collection. We have the collection today because of these two women’s efforts.
The McWhiney Group developed the Buffalo Gap Historic Village into an important part of the Taylor County cultural and heritage scene. For seventeen years the organization found it to be a useful teaching tool, primarily for McMurry students, but also those from Hardin-Simmons, Abilene Christian University, North Carolina State University, University of Mississippi, Middle Tennessee State University, Northern Arizona University, Texas Tech, Anderson State University, Baylor University, Austin College, and Texas A&M University as well. Having completed that phase of its development, and having achieved their goals with that facility, the McWhiney group gifted the museum to the people of Taylor County in 2017. The buildings are now county property.
Some of the art collection, however, came north to Abilene where it could be professionally curated, displayed, interpreted, and preserved for future generations and used for educational purposes in a more stable environment. Visitors can now come to campus to see these works—restored and in all their glory—free of charge.Paragraph
While viewing these pieces, visitors will note that the McWhiney Art Collection falls into three main categories: Maps that tell the geographical evolution of Texas; Paintings with local connections; and an impressive grouping of Lithics (stone tools and points) gathered from sites near Abilene. There are several notable pieces in this gathering. There are great collections of the work of Mary Motz Wills and Mary Eula Sears, two Abilene artists of note. Arrowheads, dart points, and stone tools from this region date back to 5,000 BCE and earlier, give a hint of the people who first called this region home. The flags in the stairwells once floated above the heads of several generations of McMurry students portraying “living history” impressions of the US military in the 1850s. There are maps dating back to the 1500s. The picture of the tank on the east end of the hallway greeted thousands of US troops heading to fight World War II as they passed through the chow hall at Camp Barkeley, a training based located in part in the hills visible out the south facing windows of Old Main.