Angels in the Basement

The statues in the basement finally have a name, or at least a true story.

Having a background in the University Theater here on campus, I have found myself on many occasions meandering around Talley Student Centre, through Stewart Theatre, and down into the dark, horror-film-esque basement of this building.  I can recall the first time I went into the storage space: I was only brought along so our costume designer would be less afraid of the “creepy gnomes” that resided in a dimly lit room under the stage, peering through the doorways watching her. I’ll admit: I was unnerved when I first saw what seemed like millions of tiny, wooden creatures looking at me. In order to regain our confidence, we joked that the statues must come to life at night to keep the basement and theater in order and watch over us during the show process. Since that day, I’ve shared the legend of The Gnomes in the Basement with a number of people. And just recently, I’ve had the pleasure of going back to those people to tell them that this summer, I get to work with the Gregg Museum to record and photograph the infamous keepers of the stage.

I’ve been able to share with them the beautiful, sad, and inspirational story of Annie Hooper—a woman, who, after the Second World War, was abandoned by her only son. The stress Annie underwent became too much to bare and her loneliness was beginning to control her life. To fight that feeling, Annie began creating. She worked with driftwood, concrete, shells, and other miscellaneous items to create miniature, representations of Biblical Stories. Annie felt led by God to create her figurines and desired that her viewers would appreciate and become inspired by her religious-based pieces. Her art quickly began filling up her small house on the coast of North Carolina. She gave tours to neighbors and friends who were interested in her work. After the death of her husband in 1978, Annie stopped giving house tours but continued to create. She passed away in 1986 with a shop full of unfinished pieces.

In 1989, the Gregg was lucky enough to acquire the entire Hooper collection, well over 2,000 pieces with a range from butter trays to geese to Jesus and his disciples to Guardian Angels. With going through, measuring, recording, photographing, and packaging every piece in a huge collection like this, comes a respect and appreciation for the art and artist. Annie attempted to cure her loneliness by using her creativity and skill. That is a commendable thought, isn’t it? Becoming self-sufficient in whatever way we as humans know how. And now, we have this spiritual bond to the artist, Annie Hooper. She has passed along her guardian angels to this museum and this campus. So, maybe we aren’t totally incorrect in saying that these “gnomes” in the basement are watching out for us.

-Maggie Briggs
Gregg Intern, Summer 2012

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  • North Carolina State University

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