The Hamilton County Artists’ Association (HCAA) was started in 1950 by approximately nine artist from the area, most having ties to Noblesville: Amanda Kirby, Elizabeth Kaiser, Malcom Black, Harriet Jeffries and Floyd Hopper.
The first art exhibit was held in Hare Chevrolet’s former showroom at the corner of 10th and Conner Streets in Noblesville and each annual exhibit since has been held at libraries around Hamilton County. The HCAA received a permanent home in 2006 when the city of Noblesville purchased the building belonging to the First Baptist Church with a permanent arrangement for use by the Hamilton County Artists’ Association. After nearly one year of renovation work, the building was opened as The Hamilton County Art Center April 18th, 2007 at 195 South 5th Street in Noblesville, Indiana
Today HCAA operates as a 501(c)3 nonprofit ran by volunteers, and stands as the original juried fine arts organization in Hamilton County, IN. It’s made up of selected artists from cities within Hamilton County, such as Carmel, Fishers, Westfield and of course Noblesville. In memory of juried artist Ken Bloomhorst late wife, Roberta “Birdie” Bloomhorst, the building was officially named - The Birdie Gallery. Admission is free, and open February through November on Thursdays from 1-3pm, Fridays from 1-4pm and Saturdays from 10am-4pm.
Despite the HCAA’s long history in Noblesville, Indiana, their new home had even more. Originally called First Colored Missionary Baptist Church, it was located at the corner of 5th and Cherry Streets, formally known as Amo and Brock Streets. This fell on the eastern edge of the Riverside Cemetery that runs along the White River. Historical records indicate that the building was started in 1873 and completed in 1875 with a cost of approximately $650.00.
The church itself had several pastors through the years, but one in particular, Barney Stone, became one of Noblesville’s outstanding citizens. He was a slave in 1847 in Spencer County, Kentucky. His father and mother could never live together since his father was a slave from a neighboring farm, but they had ten children together, all of them slaves. After witnessing his mother and siblings being beaten and sold to other plantation owners, he ran away at age sixteen and joined the Union Army. It was there that the soldiers taught him to read and write. As a young man, Barney continued his studies, and by age twenty-one he was preaching sermons. He married at age 24 and had five children. When he was about forty-five years old, his daughter Beulah, graduated from Noblesville High School and later attended college in Kentucky. Barney was very involved with life in Noblesville. He was a Circuit Court Bailiff and a member of the Knights of Pythias and Masonic Lodge. He was extremely proud of his military service and led many Memorial Day services at two local cemeteries. He was a staunch Republican and held the right to vote as a very dear privilege. At 85 years of age, he campaigned around the state for the presidential campaign of Herbert Hoover. At 91, he made the trip to Gettysburg to hear President Franklin Roosevelt speak. Barney was the only Civil War Veteran from Hamilton County able to make the journey saying, “When I stood on the same ground where Lincoln stood, where he delivered his great speech, I think it was the happiest moment of my life.” He also expressed how grateful he was to be freed from the shackles of slavery by a great nation.
Barney died at 95 years of age, being the last Civil War Veteran in Hamilton County and possibly the last African-American Civil War Veteran in the country. His funeral service lasted three hours in the Church, so everyone could speak about his extraordinary life.
The First Colored Missionary Baptist Church became First Baptist Church which became the home of the HCAA. The Association has carried on Barney Stone’s dedication to the city of Noblesville and Hamilton County in many ways.
HCAA has an annual award called Visual Arts Major Scholarship, which is awarded to a Hamilton County high school senior who will major in fine art. Volunteer activities of the Association include demonstrations at local schools, donations of artwork for various charitable auctions, participating in charitable “paint outs,” face painting at charitable fund raisers, and special exhibits held at various schools.
For 24 years, the HCAA created a historic calendar with black and white sketches of various historic buildings around Hamilton County. To commemorate the Association’s 25th issue of the calendar, the artists’ non-historic creations were printed in full color, courtesy of Rowland Printing.
Having an artist association with such a deep history in the Noblesville community is made even more special when taking into account the history of the building they call home.